The Wetting Planners
The Holy Ground Highlander Forum Midweek Challenge
Archivist’s Note: The stories and vignettes offered here from various Forumlanders have not been edited or changed other than having a spell-check performed and being reformatted for this website.
The Challenge by Leah CWPack
City Rain by Ysanne
Weathering the Storm by Ghost Cat
Spirit’s Cleansing by destiny
No Big Deal by Gnu MacWOW
The Rain by Robin
Pitter Patter by bookmom
The Promise by Storie
Rhyme and Reason for a Red Cross Man by Wain
Richie’s First Time by MissyD
Rain’s Teardrops by Celedon
I Must Have Loved You by Titania CWPack
All Wet by vixen69
Water Falls — A Round Robin
MID-WEEK CHALLENGE: THE WETTING PLANNERS
Your challenge, should you choose to participate, has two options this week. You may do one or the other, but not both in your submission:
A) Write a short story, scene or poem that takes place in the rain. The Immortal character(s) must be out in the rain almost the entire time.
B) Write a scene involving the changing of diapers with at least two Immortal characters involved.
Disclaimer: If you want your submission to be archived, remember to place "MWC" in the subject line.
MWC: City Rain
Two young women hurry down a wet city street, probing dark alleys and shadowed doorways with nervous glances. A sudden storm has knocked out the electricity for blocks, and the windows of the silent buildings around them are blind and black. Their pretty faces tight and wary, the two speak little and stay close to one another, sheltering from the rain under one small umbrella. Their thick-soled, trendy shoes splash muddy water over their bare, tattooed legs, but they don’t notice. Another flash of lightning heralds a sharp clap of thunder, and they flinch, clutch each other and walk faster. As the thunder rolls away, scuffling sounds and low moans float from a nearby alley. The girls exchange wide-eyed looks and begin running, the red umbrella bobbing crazily above them. Very soon they are tumbling through the door of a brightly-lit McDonalds, breathless and giddy, grabbing wads of paper napkins to blot the rain from their gelled hairdos. In their relief, they talk too loudly and laugh too shrilly, but the other marooned customers only smile at their antics, glad of a bit of excitement to break the monotony of waiting out the storm.
Three blocks back, a tall man in a long coat staggers from the alley, his clothing smeared with the dank effluvium of an overflowing trash bin. He slumps against a lamppost, wipes his filthy hands on his ruined overcoat, and lifts his face to the downpour. The weather is another nasty addition to a miserable evening, yet he finds the cold wash of rain a welcome relief to his overheated body. He pulls off his sodden, smelly coat and tucks it and the blood-stained sword secreted within it under his arm, letting the rain soothe him as he walks slowly back to his car. By the time he unlocks the black Thunderbird his shoulder-length hair is dripping and his clothing soaked through, but he feels better all the same.
A short time later in the same alley, two men materialize from the shadows and creep closer to a mutilated body. One finds the severed head, which has rolled into a murky puddle, and turns it over with his booted foot, shining a quick beam of light on the face to confirm the identity. Working quickly, they bundle both body and head into a heavy, oversized plastic bag, seal it, and heave it into the trash container, making sure it is hidden under the garbage. They peel off latex gloves and shove them in their pockets as they disappear into the wet darkness. The drumming of the rain on brick and cement deadens their retreating footsteps until only the sound of the rain remains, slanting down into the narrow erstwhile battlefield.
Later that evening Joe Dawson looks up as the door of the bar opens and Duncan MacLeod walks in, accompanied by a rush of cool air and a small shower of rain. He sits at the bar and accepts the short glass of whisky that Joe slides over to him. Lifting it in a salute to his host, he sips.
“Hits the spot. Thanks, Joe.”
“Sure. Lousy weather tonight; not many people out.”
“Yeah. Weather doesn’t stop some people, though.”
“I heard,” replies Joe with a direct look. “Glad you could make it.”
MacLeod nods and finishes his drink. “Me, too, Joe. Me, too.”
MWC: "Weathering the Storm" (part 1)
"Weathering the Storm"
Since Methos had agreed to take her as an apprentice, Sheila's relationship with the last Horseman was changing. The two had a lot in common, there was no denying that: the same odd, slightly morbid sense of humour, the same quietly devious mind, and the same willingness to blend into the background. Not to mention the same drinking habits. But it had been many years, perhaps centuries, since Methos' last mentorship, and he was taking the role quite seriously. Sheila never knew when an enjoyable evening out with Adam might turn into a session with Master Methos.
"I never pictured you as a Long Walks in the Evening type," Sheila commented, fishing for clues. The traffic on the roads was just starting to die down as the pair approached the bridge over Mill Creek ravine. Unconsciously, she began to quicken her pace; she hated bridges with a passion.
"You have to realise that lessons, like combat, can happen any time, any place. Besides," he added with an eerie little smile, "sometimes it's good have everything… out in the open." There was a dry, papery scent in the air, despite the sprinkling of drops coming down. The sky, when Sheila dared to glance up at it, was a mass of dark heavy clouds.
Sheila knew better than most the way the Old Man loved to play with words; being out in the open had little to do with their current exposure to the elements. Or everything to do with it, depending on one's point of view. There was one thing that Sheila had not been open and honest in admitting to her teacher. As the sprinkles turned into a steady rain and the wind began to pick up, Sheila's tense body wanted to break into a sprint. "Look," she stammered nervously, "can't we deal with this later? It's starting to rain and I--"
Without any effort at all Methos slipped in front of her on the bridge's narrow footpath, blocking her way. "And you what? Want to flee like a rabbit?" As she turned to retreat, he grabbed her roughly by the collar; "We are going to deal with this now!"
§ § §
Down below, in the ravine, another couple was walking in the rain, soaked to the skin. If she squinted, Deb could just make out the pair on the bridge stop suddenly. It was amazing to watch how easily Methos could corner someone at will, blocking her escape from both directions with only the slightest movement. Deb felt a deep sympathy for Sheila up there; "Duncan, is this really necessary? I mean, surely there's another way."
MacLeod shook his head firmly; "This has to be done, and soon. Fear is one of an Immortal's worst enemies, this one more than most. All the skill she learns in combat will be useless if she is constantly afraid of what comes at the end of the duel." The Quickening, a release of energy that would make a thunderstorm like this one seem like a gentle spring shower.
"You don't understand, I've seen the way Sheila gets when a storm is coming. It's not a pretty sight."
Duncan's voice had an edge hard enough to sharpen, "Death isn't very pretty either. She's your friend; do you want her to survive or not?"
Deb almost had to shout to be heard over the wind whipping through the trees along the hiking trail. "Of course I want her to survive, but not at the cost of her own sanity!" At that moment, the first rumble of distant thunder rolled over their heads.
§ § §
At the first sound of thunder, Sheila felt a burst of panic in her chest; she had to get away. She looked around, desperately, for an escape. On one side was the road itself, with enough traffic to make crossing a dangerous risk; on the other side was a guard rail, and open air. One man blocked the only other way out, a man who had known the storm was coming; who had done this on purpose. "This is your fault," she snarled. "Let me go; I have to get out of here!" The man she had trusted as a mentor spoke a single word: "No."
The storm was growing stronger, like a living thing. By now it was close enough, and powerful enough, for flashes of lightning to be visible on the horizon. Vicious crosswinds buffeted the bridge, now pushing them toward the road, now threatening to throw them over the rail. Methos, in what seemed to Sheila like a fit of insanity, lifted up his arms, threw back his head and answered the thunder with a primal roar of his own. "This is Power," he shouted. "This is Nature; this is Life itself. Feel it, smell it, taste it. Embrace the storm. Be the storm."
Sheila desperately tried to shove her way past the madman; "You're crazy. We're on the middle of a bridge for God's Sake; we're perfect targets!" The only thing that could make this any worse would be--Sheila suddenly found over a meter of ancient steel pointing straight at her heart--if someone decided to give the lightning an open invitation.
There was no hesitation in Methos' voice, no hint of his dry and wicked humour. "You have a choice. You can either face the storm, or you can face me. Only one of the two can kill you." His posture and stance was pure, unadulterated Horseman. If Sheila attacked, she wouldn't stand a chance of survival; if she turned to run, he wouldn't hesitate to take out an unworthy coward from behind. But how could she just stand there, exposed and vulnerable, in the centre of a metal bridge, next to a man who held a lightning rod in his bare hands? Shrieking wordless terror, she took the third option, "none of the above". In an adrenaline-fuelled charge, she vaulted the rail, plummeting to the ravine far below. Methos tried to reach out for her, but it was too little, too late. All he could do was lean over the edge, as sheets of rain pelted him from above. The expression on his face, if anyone were there to see it, would have been regret, mixed with disappointment.
§ § §
"No!" Debra shouted in anguish, as she watched the figure fall. The two of them had been stationed down here as backup, for just such a contingency, but in her heart of hearts Deb had never imagined her friend would actually do it. The effects of the storm were much harsher here than above: the path had turned to mud at their feet, and off-trail was even more treacherous territory. City-girl that she was, Deb ignored the danger and set off cross-country at a sprint. She half-ran, half-slid downslope toward the creek. Thorny underbrush tore at her clothing; branches whipped at her face; exposed roots threatened to break an ankle. She could barely see through the windswept rain, but still she ran.
At the first sight of the body, Deb finally stumbled to a halt, shocked by what she saw. Limbs sprawled in unnatural directions; slivers of white bone were clearly visible where the rain had washed away the blood. Somehow she had twisted during the fall, landing face up on the creek bank; the look in those eyes was one of abject horror.
The author watched in amazement, as the crumpled body seemed to pull itself back together, and then, the sudden spasm of rebirth. The former corpse rolled onto its side, coming up in a defensive crouch. Sheila's reflexes, despite her lack of experience, were impressive. Her expression, as she struggled to her feet, was more like a cornered animal than anything human.
Debra wanted to rush to the other woman's side, to provide comfort and shelter; but she had a role to play in this, however reluctantly. As a wild-eyed Sheila tried to flee, Deb stood squarely in her path. MacLeod circled in from behind; the panicked woman found herself surrounded.
It was impossible for Deb to use a calming voice; she had to shout to be heard above the howl of the wind and the near-constant roar of thunder. All she could do was to keep an unthreatening body language and hope her words would be enough. "Sheila, listen to me. You are one of the most stubborn women I know; when you want to be, you are literally unstoppable." Not exactly something Debra wanted to think about right now, but it was the truth. "Don't let the fear control you; fight it. The storm can't kill you; look at yourself, nothing that exists in Nature can kill you."
Sheila's voice was ragged and hoarse, as if she'd been screaming for hours. "And what about…Unnatural?" Deb hesitated; here was a question that could only be answered from experience. She prayed that Duncan could find the right words to explain that unimaginable event.
"You are afraid of chaos, of what you can't control." Sheila turned warily toward the sound of a new voice. "The Quickening Storm exists, it awaits you at the end of every Immortal combat. But it is not wild, not chaotic. The power is not an attack; it is an embrace. It will seek you out, become a part of you. Sometimes it will be something, someone, you wouldn't want to be part of you, but it cannot be resisted. And the experience itself is beyond anything you could imagine: it is a moment triumph and a moment of release; it is pleasure and it is pain; it fills you with power as it drains you completely. In the end, you are more than what you were before." The very nature of his words, the conflicting and contradictory descriptions, proved that he was speaking from the depths of his soul. He tried to convey in mere words an experience that was ancient, primal and quite literally supernatural. If only it was enough to get past that irrational fear, to make her understand.
Sheila wasn't listening; mere words couldn't reach her in the state she was in. Her entire world had been reduced to the storm closing in on her from all sides and the overwhelming need to flee. These two things, and one more, something that had been drilled into her daily, almost hourly, since her training had begun. She was armed. The heavy claymore appeared in her hands as if summoned there, a reassuring weight. She lashed out, unthinking, at the smaller of the two figures that blocked her escape.
Stunned, as much by disbelief as from the savage swiftness of the attack, Deb made no attempt to defend herself. The wild swing caught her full across the torso, laying her open from hip to shoulder. There was no time for a scream and the howling winds tore away her last pain-filled gasp. Oblivion rushed toward her as she toppled in slow motion.
The follow-through from her first cut blended seamlessly into the next, adding power and momentum to the stroke. It was an overhand attack with enough strength behind it to cut through muscle and bone: a blow against a helpless opponent; a blow made without thought, without recognition; a blow that was-intercepted. The jarring clash of steel against steel sent a wave of numbness all the way to her shoulders, shocking her back to reality.
A voice cut through the noise of the storm without the need to shout; drove past the chaos within her. "You don't want to do that, not unless you want to live with an eternity of guilt and self-hatred." Recognition dawned in her eyes; "MacLeod? Then who--"
She looked down at what she had done, saw for the first time not an obstacle between her and freedom, not a nightmare enemy, but a face: the face of a friend. Her terror of the storm evaporated, leaving only numbness inside. Her weapon fell from nerveless fingers; she dropped to her knees as if to beg forgiveness. She reached out to touch the still body; her hand paused, hovering in mid-air. She looked up, helpless as a child. "I didn't mean to!"
"She was trying to help you." For the moment, MacLeod didn't bother to remind her that Deb would be back shortly; her lapse helped the lesson hit home. "This is what happens when you let your emotions rule you. Now do you understand?"
§ § §
Deb's first awareness when she "awoke" was a sensation of wet drops landing on her face; It's still raining?. But no, these drops were warm. Other sensations filtered through; her head was pillowed on a lap, as gentle hands finger-combed her hair, and there was a sense of movement. Slowly, carefully, she opened her eyes, looked up into a familiar face. "Oh, my gloomy little Eeyore, please don't cry. It makes dying into such an awkward thing."
"It was my fault you did die; I'm so sorry." There was a pang of regret and self-punishment in Sheila's voice, even as her body-language screamed relief that her friend was okay.
"Don't worry," she smiled weakly, "I'm kind of getting used to it." She tried to lever herself up to a sitting position. She finally realised that she was stretched out across the back seat of her own Toyota. "Hey, where are we going? And who's driving my Highlander?"
It was Sheila's turn to smile; "Who else but your Highlander? We're on our way to the Blade. I was ready to break every bone in that sadistic old man's body-twice; but Duncan thought that forcing him to watch us drink for the rest of the night would be a better punishment."
Deb's wan smile turned into a grin, but she forced herself to deal with more a serious subject. "I'll make you a promise, Sheila; I'll help you deal with your fear, if you help me with mine."
"Yeah, ever since September 11, I've had this real problem with h-heights. Why do you think I was down in the ravine instead of up there at your side?" The two hugged awkwardly in the back of the vehicle, and it was hard to tell who whispered the word into the other's ear first: "Together."
I would like to thank the real Sheila Woodward for allowing me to write her once again. As always, she has full veto power on anything in her scenes. I am happy to say, that I made my Eeyore cry (in a good way).
MWC: Spirit's Clensing
Posted By: destiny
Date: Monday, 26 November 2001, at 1:34 a.m.
He could feel the blood pounding through his veins, driving him onward. Cold and relentless, the rain poured down on him, drenching him until his dark clothes clung to him like a second skin. With a savage cry, he gracefully arced the sword through the air, the finely honed blade slicing through the rain as if it were an imaginary foe. His body moved with the grace of a dancer as he turned and brought the sword up in another movement. Still, he couldn't escape the images in his mind.
Memories, like jagged pebbles, assaulted his brain. In his mind, he was there, once again, on that rooftop, facing his Immortal brother, swords interlocked in one last tragic battle. The flashes of light and dark, the sliding slice of steel on steel, the pungent aura of desperation clinging in the moist air, all blended together, holding him like captive prey. Tears misted his eyes, momentarily blinding him, as he remembered the day he had told his Immortal kinsman good-bye.
The pain, raw and deep, cut through his soul, searing into his chest and settling deep into the pit of his stomach. Viciously, he swung his sword, trying desperately to rid himself of this burden. But, it wasn't going to work; not this time.
Callously, then, he dropped the sword and it rolled across the pavement, sending out tiny sparks from the hilt as it went. With a thunk, it stopped at the feet of a man who held a dark umbrella over his head. The man tapped the sword with his cane.
"Hey, Mac, you okay, buddy?"
Duncan Macleod walked over to Joe and reached down to retrieve his sword. He straightened and pushed the dark, wet hair out of his eyes. Eyes that still mirrored the painful memories he usually hid so well.
"Yeah, Joe. But, I've been better."
Dawson put the long overcoat he had brought from the inside the bar around Duncan's shoulders. Gently, he guided his friend in the bar's direction.
"I know, Mac. We all have. Things are going to get better. They have to."
"You think, Joe? Sometimes I wonder."
Joe sighed and then slowly smiled. "You know what, Mac? Whatever happens, whatever this crazy world throws our way, you can count on me to be there. I may be your watcher, but I'm also your friend."
Duncan smiled then, the dark memories slowly fading back into the deep recesses of his mind. "Thanks, Joe."
The two men turned and walked up the bar's steps, and closed the door behind them. Amanda's voice could be heard, carrying softly over the driving rain, "Oh, Duncan, what have you done now? Here, darling, let me get you out of those wet clothes."
"Now, wait a minute, Amanda," Joe protested, loudly. "Just what do you think he's going to wear once he gets out of those clothes?"
Amanda's rich, throaty laughter echoed throughout the dark night, chasing away the last of Duncan's worries.
MWC - No Big Deal
Posted By: Gnu MacWOW
Date: Wednesday, 14 November 2001, at 2:18 p.m.
The muses were quick today...in fact they were insistent! Bless their stinky little hearts I may yet get some work done today! Enjoy...
MWC - "Wetting Planners" - Your challenge, should you choose to participate, has two options this week. You may do one or the other, but not both in your submission:
A) Write a short story, scene or poem that takes place in the rain. The
Immortal character(s) must be out in the rain almost the entire time.
B) Write a scene involving the changing of diapers with at least two Immortal characters involved.
No Big Deal
"Sixty - eight wives you say…and how many children…and THIS is the best you can do?" cried one very perplexed Scot as he watched Methos unsuccessful chase their afternoon charge around the room.
Chubby little baby legs pumping, Mary laughed gleefully as she managed to duck and crawl under the dining room table with "Uncunadam" hot on her trail. Methos' smile was just this side of manic as he tried once again to corral the tot and get her back into the nursery so that he could investigate the decidedly rotten smell emanating from her.
"I said I'd raised several dozen children, MacLeod, but that doesn't mean I didn't have help. And when it came to this particular chore I definitely left the wife to it. So unless you want to be forced into fumigating Anne's entire house…start helping," he wailed as Mary moved further out of his reach.
Duncan rolled his eyes at the sight of a 5,000-year-old man crawling after the quick toddler, but moved to block Mary's escape from under the other side. Methos reached under the table, cooing at "the prettiest little girl" and reached Mary's foot. As he'd hoped, his flattery and tickling stopped her long enough that he could pull her out. She squealed delightedly at the new game she'd invented but allowed herself to be hoisted into his arms.
"Phewwwww…." Methos stated dramatically as the aroma of dirty diaper filled his nose.
"Wheww…," Mary mimicked breathily and then giggled as Methos made a show of holding his nose. Her chubby little fist grabbed at his nose and he laughed as he blew kisses into it.
"Duncan, seems I've done all the work here, least you could do is help me with this one little thing." A raised eyebrow was the only response he got, but he noted that Duncan did follow him down the hall toward the nursery. "Let's see, I ran the bath, prepared lunch and even sang Mary to sleep when it was naptime."
"Well I tried to, but she didn't settle down." Duncan picked up a few of the scattered toys left from their playtime as they entered the room in a conciliatory gesture.
"I wouldn't call that noise you were making 'singing'." Methos sat Mary on the changing table and started pulling out the wipes and fresh diapers. "Little Miss Mary here is very discerning when it comes to lullabies. Aren't you precious?" Methos added with a goofy grin to his favorite 'niece'. Mary batted her long lashes at him and blew a spit bubble kiss.
Duncan sat down in the rocker with a slightly offended look on his face. "Ok, so I'm no' the best singer…but I did help you by feeding her."
Methos pulled off Mary's shoes and socks, noticing that the smell was definitely getting stronger. "Oh yeah, that was a LOT of help. She had Vienna sausages in her ears and strained beets in her hair," he paused for effect, "I suspect Anne's going to be none-too-happy to discover both of them now residing on her ceiling. And what in all that's holy gave you the idea that Mary needed to eat dried fruit for dessert?"
Duncan ducked his head in silent admission. "I didn't think just a few pieces would hurt her. What's the big deal?"
Methos started to answer, but suddenly paled as he unsnapped Mary's outer pants to get to her Onesie and the diaper within. "Uh…..ur…." Methos turned his face away from the changing table and took several deep breaths. "It seems we've got a bit of a problem…" he said as he choked down a couple more cleansing breaths and then turned back to the oblivious toddler who was waving her arms and burbling "Uncunadam…pbbbtttt".
Duncan peered over Methos' shoulder and blanched. "Is that normal?" he squeaked in an uncharacteristically high voice.
"No," said Methos taking hold of Duncan's hand and putting in place of his on the squirming child, "THAT's the big deal."
MWC: The Rain
Posted By: Robin <Catnature@yahoo.com>
Date: Wednesday, 14 November 2001, at 5:51 p.m.
The drip, drip, drip woke him. He got up and looked out the window confused. Last night the weaterman said it would be clear and sunny.
Ray got dressed, pulling on a gray set of sweats.
He went into the hall, "Cassandra."
He moved to the kitchen, "Cassandra?"
She wasn't there.
He opened the front door and saw Cassandra standing in the rain with her arms spread out; looking very much like the goddess of the elements.
"Cassandra, what are you doing out there?" he asked softly and alittle in awe. She was so beautiful.
"Enjoying the rain." she smiled dropping her arms. She put out her hand, "Come join me."
He stepped out in the rain. To his surprise it was warm and gentle against his skin. He took her hand and she laughed putting her head back to catch the rain on his face.
They played in the rain 'til he was throughly soaked. Not that he minded, not at all.
Cassandra looked around at the flowers and trees. "Shall we go back inside."
Hand in hand they went to the house. Stepping through the door Ray said, "Uh Cassandra, the rain."
"Of course." she moved her free hand and the rain stopped, clouds cleared and it was a bright sunny day.
MWC: Pitter Patter
Posted By: bookmom <email@example.com>
Date: Wednesday, 14 November 2001, at 8:23 p.m.
Duncan started as a heavy weight padded across his lap and settled on his stomach. He opened his eyes to see bright green ones regarding his. The purr emanating from the furry chest deepened as he stroked her soft fur. Retrieving the book from his chest, he set it aside on the low table. The cat took this opportunity to scoot closer to his face, tucking her paws in as she settled once more.
“Thought you’d take advantage of the warmth eh?” rumbled Duncan’s baritone. He scratched her cheek lovingly and the cat leaned into his fingers, savouring the comforting sound that she both felt and heard. It was chilly in the barge but he didn’t notice it. Growing up in the Highlands of Scotland had something to do with that.
He lay contentedly for awhile listening to the rain beating down on the deck and the cat purring on his chest. A fond memory of another such day waking to similar sounds floated up into his consciousness.
Only it wasn’t a cat and her contented purring that had awoken him then, it
was the sound of the rain falling *again* on the trees overhead and the soft
snoring of his kinsman.
Duncan pulled his plaid tighter about his shoulders, trying not to disturb the sleeping man nestled against him. He smiled down at Connor seeing the youthful face unlined and worry free. It wasn’t often he was treated to this sight. Most of the time the dictates of the “Game” and life on the road painted the harsh realities for all to see.
Another of their kind had stalked them for days. The rain had made it hard going. Sometimes it had come down in sheets and they could barely see. Soaked to the bone, both were frustrated with the mystery Immortal. There had been no challenge, just a barely felt presence now and then. So they had slogged on toward the next town knowing it would come sooner or later.
As always, Connor was concerned that the mystery man was after his student’s head as well as his own. “Go on about your business, but never let your guard down,” Connor had said. “We’ve done all we can to flush him out. Neither of us are good at waiting, so let’s go and not let him bother us.”
But bother them he had. Connor had decided he would sit watch at night, and no amount of arguing could change it, but after three days Duncan had had enough. His cousin’s normally taciturn personality had degenerated into out and out hostility.
He lashed out at Duncan for every little thing: he was walking too fast, he wasn’t walking fast enough, he was making too much noise… When they had finally stopped for the night, Duncan confronted Connor.
He started gently, “I know this coward is driving you crazy, Connor, but you can’t go on like this.”
“Like what, Duncan?” Connor’s voice was already rising. “Like a hunted fox?”
Duncan cut him off before he got going, “No Conchobhar,” he said soothingly, “I will stand watch tonight and you get some sleep. This little over hang is the best place for us to be for the next few nights. A nice solid rock wall behind our backs and a place to dry out will do us wonders. We need to hunt again anyway, here is as good as any,” said the student for once taking on the role of the teacher.
“I hate it when he comes at night, Duncan. I know he wants to draw me away so he can come for you. I will not let him take you!”
“Wearing yourself out is exactly what he wants. We’re not playing his game and maybe that’s starting to grate on his nerves.” That and this damned rain, thought Duncan. At least it would be dry enough to have a fire tonight. He pulled some kindling out of his pack and soon had a small fire crackling and popping.
After a hot dinner, Duncan propped himself up against the rock wall and gestured for Connor to lay his head in the crook of his arm. “Dinna fash, Connor, I’ll keep the watch,” said Duncan enfolding his plaid about them both. The mystery man did not tease them that night.
Connor got a good nights sleep and the next day he was in better spirits. Despite the ongoing rain, they managed to shoot some quail and set a few snares.
While checking the snares the following day, Duncan felt the familiar buzz
inside his head.
“Connor?” he called. Looking around he could see no one. “Connor?” he called again a little louder, a note of panic creeping into his voice.
“Ah, my young one, the teacher has finally become complacent.” The man who stepped into view pulled out his sword and advanced on Duncan who backed away warily. “What’s wrong pup?! Forget your sword? Didn’t Connor teach you to take it wherever you went?”
Duncan backed into a clearing and relief washed over him along with Connor’s presence.
“Yes, I did teach him that. I also taught him to challenge his opponents honourably, not skulk around like some skunk.”
The man’s face registered surprise as Connor lunged at him. The incessant rain had softened the ground considerably and the mystery Immortal slid backward as Connor’s body connected. Their swords clashed and they both went down. Rolling quickly to his feet, Connor advanced on the other man who was still scrabbling in the mud.
“So who have I the “honour” of killing today,” spat Connor. “Reginald Kipin, at your service.”
The other man made it to his feet just in time to parry another thrust. Connor did not let up on the attack and soon his sword found its mark. He wrenched the katana free as Kipin fell to his knees.
“Know that one deception was met with another coward, and you lost your life because of it,” growled Connor. Duncan watched the katana sweep down in that deadly arc.
That night both men slept soundly, the bigger dark haired one curled around the slighter light haired one.
Duncan grunted as his furry companion suddenly sprang from his chest and raced to the door. He shook his head and wondered how it was that she could sense an Immortal at the same time he could. Methos poked his head in after a quick knock. “Hey Highlander, want to go for a walk?”
MWC: The Promise
Azure diluted a scattering of illusive stars, staining the sky a pallid green that melded into the sorrow of the earth beneath. Reds and blues surrendered to the unforgiving torrent in a cascade of violet tears.
She stared as the images blurred and fled down the board in shrieks of astonished agony, the colors merging across the bottom of the painting in a confused black muddle that dripped insolently onto the toes of her shoes: Faith professed with confidence and committed to security within a border, abruptly evicted from its destiny by broken trust, brutal and careless and cold and eternal.
She was helpless to stop the rain from destroying the picture, so she simply held the frame in her hands and waited for the turmoil to end. Amidst the abstract pieces of her shattered life, a shard crumbled smaller still as her heart broke for the artist whose work had been destroyed by the unexpected storm. She wept then, a pitiful breeze mocked by the hurricane that tore her yet asunder as her tears joined the kaleidoscopic streaks and swirls that no longer conveyed the meaning for which they had been designed.
Such were the lives of all God’s children.
She was a strong woman; strength was one of the first qualities people noticed in her. Strength, however, was not evidence of power, and many an invincible smile had been overturned by circumstances from which no amount of fortitude could wrest the vaguest hope.
Death, she was learning, could choose to prey at any level. Grief was a luxury not everyone could afford. Survival was an effect as often as a choice. Sometimes one lived simply because she did not die.
One star clung tenaciously to the paper, its edges softening as the color expanded and thinned, overrun by darker shades but remaining to be seen. Grief possessed the moment, but then only the breath of God in the human soul would last for ever, for those who were Chosen as well as for those who chose not. She would breathe again. She would feel again. She would experience joy and hope and laughter and yes, even love, again. Even trust, again. Even faith, again.
The dark mess spilled from the board and washed away in rivulets of mud, an opaque conglomeration of colors, realities and emotions that cleansed away both the good and the bad. But not the stains, she noticed; not the scars. She would always remember, and only time would dull the onslaught of phantom pain.
Serenity drew her awareness from the point of devastation to a peace that had surrounded her gently when she was yet unable comprehend its presence. The rain slowed and stopped as the clouds sailed silently onward to some other cataclysm. A ray of light caressed her hair with warmth and devotion from the heavens. She lifted her eyes to the cerulean clarity of the sky and saw it…
Cassandra set aside the board, empty but for traces of what had been and taunts of what would never be. She wrung the water from her hair and slicked tendrils from her face and reached into her car for a pad and colored pencils. She gazed for endless moments at an original work of art by the Master Artist, an image that had engendered countless replications through the centuries.
The vibrant colors were fading when she settled at length against the car and began sketching a humble and childish rendition of an intense and adult expectation, smiling as she worked in appreciation of the knowledge that in the absence of all else, hope remains, for God’s children are made of stronger stuff than watercolor dreams.
* * * * *
Where there is
There is a peace
And in the cages that bind the bitter heart, it is release
Hold it close to your chest
Let it move, and let it rest
For it is here to set your mind at ease
Where there is love
There is a peace
Where there is hope
There is a dream
To rise above, to remit and to redeem
To go back, to go where
There’s no hurt or anger there
To find the song that you once could sing
Where there is hope
There is a dream
Where there is faith
There is a chance
To alter the course and fight the winds of circumstance
Not to scar, but to mend
Not to break, but to bend
And not to know, but to understand
Where there is faith
There is a chance
Where there is hope
There is a dream
Where there is love
There is a peace
- Song of Reconciliation
Written by Wayne Kirkpatrick
From the CD Along the Road
By Susan Ashton, Margaret Becker & Christine Dente
MWC: Rhyme and Reason for a Red Cross Man
He slithered to a halt in the mud and faced the red-haired, uniformed man. "Duncan MacLeod, sergeant. I’ve come to collect the wounded."
The sergeant squinted up at the heavy gray clouds. Wiping a raindrop from his cheek, he said, "The weather’s delayed this afternoon’s offensive. Perhaps you’ll wait?" He turned on his heel and strode away.
MacLeod nodded agreement to the sergeant’s back and looked for a place to stand that sheltered him from the worst of the rain. His feet were wet and his fingertips and nose were chafed from the cold. He slogged past soldiers huddled against the walls of the trench. He stopped feeling sorry for himself long enough to feel sorry for them, sorrier still for those posted near the top of the trench behind the sandbags, sorriest of all for the dead and dying he would transport after the day’s battle.
"Rats after moldy cheese," a thin young private muttered as MacLeod passed.
An older man hissed to quiet him. Out of the corner of his eye, MacLeod watched the older man mouth to the younger one, "Red Cross."
MacLeod adjusted his sleeve under the white armband marked with a red cross. The wet fabric strained and rubbed against his woolen coat. He knew that a few of the soldiers didn’t trust Red Cross volunteers any more than they did the Royal Army Medical Corps, but at least he hadn’t heard any derogatory expressions like the ones they used for the RAMC—rats after moldy cheese, rob all my comrades.
He didn’t feel like a rat; in point of fact, he felt more like a vulture. MacLeod avoided puddles as he walked. Some of the puddles disguised the sump holes that drained most of the water out of the trenches, and MacLeod had no desire to turn an ankle and fall. He would be wet through and through soon enough without falling into the muddy water that sloshed around his boots. He wedged himself against the horizontal wooden slats lined the trench, grateful to be in a spot where only half of him was exposed to the rain. He folded his arms against his chest and waited.
Five soldiers clustered in a somewhat dry spot noted his presence and smiled at him. A tall man touched his fingers to the brim of his round metal helmet and started to sing. The others joined him.
"Hail, hail! The gang’s all here.
Never mind the weather; here we are together.
Hail, hail! The gang’s all here.
Sure we’re glad that you’re here, too!"
The man who had started the song thrust his hand into his uniform and scrabbled around. He withdrew it in a few seconds, thumbnail against his forefinger, and pinched hard.
"There’s one less greyback in the world, mates," he announced.
Another man frowned. "It should only be that easy to kill the Fritzes."
Lice, rats, typhus, gunfire, exposure to weather—they were part of life in the trenches. Of all of them, MacLeod felt that rain must be the worst. It obscured vision, made the ground slick underfoot, and turned the hands stiff and unreliable. It poured rain the last time MacLeod had stood in uniform on these low fertile fields that bordered the Strait of Dover and the North Sea, that long summer day when the British fought Napoleon’s troops. Now the French and British stood as allies in mile after mile of muddy trench fighting the Germans. MacLeod wondered who the opposing parties would be the next time this piece of ground was fought over, for he never doubted that it would be fought over again.
The pinging of raindrops on his helmet was maddening. He sighed, his breath a visible plume before him in the chilly October afternoon. He tilted the helmet forward a bit to try to stop the noise and was punished by a cold rivulet that slipped under his collar and ran down his back. He looked at the tightly woven fabric of his uniform greatcoat. Earlier in the day, fine mist had frosted the fabric; later, raindrops had danced on the surface like fat silver beads; now, darker spots marked where the wool was beginning to absorb the water. In another half hour or so, MacLeod would be soaked to the skin, the multiple wet layers of clothing binding against each other and hampering his movements as he tried to evacuate the wounded to the regimental aid post.
"Hail, hail! The gang’s all here.
We’re a bunch of live ones, not a single dead one.
Hail, hail! The gang’s all here.
Sure I’m glad that I’m here, too!"
They bided their time until the rain turned to a mist, the soldiers checking their weapons and making boisterous and unsavory jokes, MacLeod quiet except to smile and nod at the punch lines.
An officer passed through the trench, rallying the men. A few minutes later he returned, arm held high, to say, "On my order, men, it’ll be up and over the top." He swung his arm down, and they swarmed away in a wave of shouts, leaving MacLeod behind, streaming up and out of the trenches, over the sandbags that lined the top of them, dodging barbed wire. The barbed wire was as dangerous to the British soldiers as it was to their enemies; any man snagged there was a helpless target.
Growing up, MacLeod had always thought the battle cry of the Highlanders something unique. The more war he saw, the more he found that a battle cry was universal. It seemed likely to him that the shouting wasn’t so much to frighten the enemy as it was to chase away one’s own fear. Soon, the soldiers’ voices were drowned out by the sounds of bullets and shells firing. MacLeod fixed his eyes on the opposite wall of the trench and waited.
The shelling and shooting stopped soon after the British forces scrambled back to the trenches. It was nearly always like this—upon retreat, both sides stopped shooting to allow medics and Red Cross personnel onto no man’s land to recover the dead and dying. It wasn’t as if allowing aid to the fallen markedly increased the enemy’s chances of winning the Battle of the Somme or the war. With only sixteen stretchers and thirty-two stretcher-bearers per nine-hundred-man British Army regiment, the rescue efforts did little to lower the number of casualties.
MacLeod steeled himself for the scene he knew would await him when he clambered over the sandbags.
A soldier limped by MacLeod, who stopped. The man waved him on, adding, "Got your gum boots, mate? There’s bokoo mud up there today."
There was mud indeed and drizzle, and bodies and discarded weapons, but no sign at all that the ground churned up by a thousand boots had once been a wheat field. For more than an hour MacLeod went from man to man, checking for signs of life, directing the removal of those who might survive if they reached the aid station in time.
The stretcher-bearers and medics gone with the last group of wounded, MacLeod found himself alone except for the dead. A moan and a gurgling sound drew his attention to a crumpled figure some twenty feet away. MacLeod knelt on the ground; icy water and mud soaked his trousers. He rolled the private, more a boy than a man, onto his back. MacLeod had seen enough battle wounds to know that the private couldn’t live for more than a few minutes.
He was startled to find the private struggling for speech, trying to focus his pale blue eyes. "Father?"
MacLeod lay his hand on the private’s shoulder. "Yes, it’s me, lad," he said.
More to forestall his feelings of uselessness than for medical purposes, MacLeod removed his greatcoat and covered the dying man, tucking it in around him, heedless of the bloodstains it would cause. He cradled the man’s head in his lap and waited in the rain with him. A few moments later, the private slipped into unconsciousness again, his breathing ragged.
MacLeod’s head snapped up when he felt it. From the opposite line of trenches, dressed in the colors of a German army uniform, an Immortal approached. MacLeod thought of his sword, sheathed in the greatcoat that was wrapped around the private.
He didn’t think the other Immortal would challenge him here, but announced himself in a warning voice, "I am Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod."
"Wilhelm Brecht of Schriesheim."
Brecht’s hands were in his coat pockets as he walked toward MacLeod. He surveyed the bodies scattered in the mud. "How many dead, MacLeod?"
MacLeod asked, "How many today? Or this week? Or this month?"
"How many," Brecht knelt and answered with a question, "since this battle began last summer?" Water droplets covered his medic’s insignia.
The private opened his eyes and fixed them on Brecht, "Father?"
"I’m here, son," Brecht answered, cupping the dying man’s cheek.
MacLeod said, "Perhaps one hundred thousand French soldiers dead these past months, and nearly four hundred thousand British."
They listened to the last painful breaths taken by the man in MacLeod’s arms.
Brecht closed the dead private’s eyes with a gentle touch. "More than a half a million German soldiers," he said. "Too many."
The sound of an ambulance grinding through a muddy, rutted road filtered from beyond the trenches and intruded on their thoughts. Brecht stood, gave MacLeod a slight bow, and turned toward the German trenches. Eight British stretcher-bearers emerged on the battlefield. MacLeod picked up his bloody greatcoat and shrugged it on as he headed to them.
The senior among them asked MacLeod, "How many are left, then, Sir?"
MacLeod looked across no man’s land toward Brecht, who had turned to face him one last time. MacLeod inclined his torso slightly and then answered the stretcher-bearer, "Too many, Corporal. Too many."
MWC: Richie's First Time
All right - apologies up front. This MWC was study induced. I thought this thing up while pretending to listen to my professor lecture about criminal procedure (not to mention the fact that he tried to squeeze an hour long lecture into 30 minutes). This thing may very well not make sense to anyone but me, but here it is anyway.
You moms out there (and a few dads as well) may notice that I've taken a few liberties here. I'm not all that far behind Richie in his experience in this particular field.
Richie's First Time
"Mac! Help!” Richie walked into the kitchen holding a squalling baby at arms’ length. Her little face was red from the effort. Her hands were clutched into tiny fists. Even from across the room Duncan could see the wet stains on the legs of her sleeper.
“She won’t stop crying, and she really reeks.”
Mac put his coffee cup back on the table and folded his newspaper before turning to look at his young friend. “Don’t you think she might want to have her diaper changed. I doubt you’d be happier, either, if you had to go around wearing loaded pants.” He recognized the smell coming from the infant and knew her diaper wasn’t just wet, but was filled with something a lot less pleasant. Richie was about to experience his first dirty diaper - and a cloth diaper at that.
“Mac, please, you’ve got to help me.” Richie advanced further into the room. The baby’s cries had escalated from wails to piercing shrieks that threatened to rupture his ear drums. At least as an immortal, ruptured eardrums weren’t permanent.
Duncan looked at Richie then took the baby into his arms. The shrieks instantly decreased in volume to whimpers.
“But, I don’t know how to change a diaper,” Richie whined. “And the way that one smells, I’m not sure I want to, either,” he thought to himself. “Besides, that’s a girl baby. Wouldn’t it be better if a woman changed her?” Richie was definitely grasping at straws now.
“There aren’t any women here. Besides, changing diapers isn’t women’s work. Lots of men are taking a role in their children’s lives.” Duncan lectured as he carried the baby out of the kitchen and toward the nursery. He gestured over his shoulder with his free hand for Richie to follow him. “Not to mention the fact that you told Ann that you could handle babysitting Mary for an afternoon.”
“Yeah, what was I thinking?” Richie muttered to himself. His big mouth had gotten him in trouble again. “Then why are you here?” He questioned his friend and former teacher.
“I’m here to see that you do it right, of course.” Duncan gently laid Mary down on the changing table. The baby, having sensed that relief was on its way, had stopped crying altogether. Big, tear-filled brown eyes stared up at him, pleading for him to hurry. He smiled down at the little girl and placed a large hand on her belly. “It won’t be long now. We’ll have you in clean pants in no time.” He turned to Richie, who lingered in the doorway to the nursery. “Come on over here. Now’s as good a time as any for you to learn this.”
As Richie approached the changing table, Duncan stepped aside. But he only went as far as the end of the table, keeping a gently restraining hand on Mary the entire time to ensure that she didn’t roll off the table.
“Okay, Mac. There’s no hope of getting out of this one is there?” At his friends negative answer, Richie turned and looked at Mary. “Okay kid, bear with me, I’m kinda new at this.” He rolled up his sleeves and turned to Duncan. “What do I do first?”
“Take off her sleeper and the dirty diaper.” Duncan grinned at the look of distress that crossed Richie’s face and turned to the dresser to retrieve a clean sleeper. The clean diapers were stacked on the changing table within Richie’s reach. He knew his young friend had reached the point of no return when he began muttering about having to touch the urine-soaked cloth. ‘Just wait, you haven’t even gotten to the good part yet,” Duncan thought.
“What do I do with this?” Richie held the now empty sleeper grasped between two fingers. Duncan indicated the clothes hamper located at the end of the changing table. “Just drop it in there.”
Richie did as he was told and turned his attentions back to Mary. “Okay, let’s get this thing off you.” He reached for the large diaper pin holding the cloth covering securely over her left hip and removed it, placing it on the table out of Mary’s reach. He did the same with the second pin, and pulled the front of the diaper down . . .
Instantly Richie’s face turned a nasty shade of green. He’d never seen anything as disgusting in his entire life. He looked up at Duncan, who was laughing out loud at Richie’s distress. “You knew, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, Richie, I knew what you were going to find.” Duncan walked over to stand beside Richie. He handed the young immortal a container of baby wipes. Richie just looked at him.
“What am I supposed to do with these?”
“Take the diaper the rest of the way off and put it in that little bucket, then clean Mary off with those.” He indicated the baby wipes.
“You mean I have to touch that stuff?”
“Yes, Richie, you have to touch that stuff. How else are you going to get it off her?”
Duncan talked Richie through the remaining steps of changing Mary’s diaper. Richie fastened the last snap on her clean sleeper just as they heard Ann’s key turning the lock on the front door. He looked down at Mary, who was now gurgling and happily kicking her feet and waving her hands.
“Why couldn’t you have waited just a few more minutes?”
MWC Rain's Teardrops
Posted By: Celedon
Date: Thursday, 15 November 2001, at 6:38 p.m.
Liverpool, England 1746
The rain beat upon the thick glass that shielded the packed courtroom from it. Those who had come to watch the judgements against the rebels had brought lunches as if at a picnic. Others hawked small kilted marionettes with nooses about their neck and a string attaching it to a long stick so that it looked as if were hanging from a gallows. Those who had bought one used whatever they could to beat the poor marionette until it seemed that there was nothing but fluff remaining of it.
“Damn the Scots!” a voice choked with hatred rang out and a chorus of others joined that affirmation. "Death to the whole lot of them!"
The Scotsman who stood before the trio of judges glanced at his bewigged barrister and closed his eyes to the spectators and the filth. He wished that he could close his nose to the stench of both them as well as himself too. But he could not. He also knew that he too would be judged without any chance of actually getting a fair hearing from this tribunal, as had all the others of his countrymen and women before him.
The heat inside the small courtroom was oppressive making even the bailiffs sleepy but they continued to drone on. They repeated his name then read the list of charges: “You are herewith charged with aiding and abetting the Pretender to the throne, Charles Edward Stuart, in his attempt to escape the Crown by providing transportation and funds to him, so that he could escape the wrath of the law. You are charged with inciting a riot against members of the English crown. You are charged with libel against the Crown of England and refusing to sign the Oath of Loyalty as ordered by law.”
The man snorted at that particular charge and opened his eyes so he could see those who judged him. He narrowed his eyes as he stared at the judges one by one, burning each and every face into his perfected memory. He maneuvered the heavy shackles that bound him at ankles, hands and waist so that he could move about, if only a trifle better.
“How do you plead?” the senior judge asked his barrister.
“What? No charge of treason? I’m disappointed in you fine English—“ the man said with a trace of a snide smile before finishing his sentence. “-gentlemen.” He smiled broadly as the gavel pounded heavily upon the bench at his words and a roar went through the crowds. His barrister touched his sleeve gingerly in warning to remain quiet.
A glance at the offending hand that followed up the barrister’s arm to finally meet the other man’s eyes was all that it took for it to be removed from his arm and swiftly too. He looked back at the judges and raised his manacles. “Guilty, “ he told them then laughed briefly. His deep-set eyes looked about the room as he watched the watchers of the proceedings.
The gavel pounded heavily again until all had quieted enough to pronounce sentence upon him. “You are hereby banished by order of the Crown to the New World and her colonies there. You are to be bonded and impressed for the rest of your life and will not be allowed to ever set foot on any of the Crown’s lands again. Judgement will be carried out forthwith; you will leave on the morning’s tide. May God have mercy upon your soul.” The gavel pounded again, then the bailiff called out, “Next case!”
As they led him off, he threw one last remark to the room. “Sassenach!”
It had been a rough six weeks at sea. Many of those who had also been sent to the New World and the colonies had sickened in the incessant rain that had continued to plague the voyage thoroughout its time at sea. Some had died from the miserable conditions and the lack of good food. Thankfully, most were a hearty lot albeit heartbroken at the forced leaving of their beloved homeland behind them forever.
Some, who had managed to sneak onboard small penny whistles, would play the songs of home while other sung the familiar ballads. The prisoners were fiercely determined that they would not forget their homeland or any of the customs that they had grown up with. Their sense of pride was not diminished in the least but their sense of loss seemed only to deepen with each rainy and misty day at sea.
Each hour took them constantly further from their homes, their families, all of the familiar things that they loved so well. And the smiles grew fewer as the deep melancholia set in throughout the prisoners. Soon, even the penny whistles stopped playing; mournful crying could be heard instead.
Sunlight was not something they saw much of since they were bound together tightly in the hold of the ship along with the ship’s cargo. The lone Scotsman who had taunted the English judges, had somehow managed to find a place by a porthole so he could see the outside world, if only to see the rain.
He had been a ship’s captain at one time before Charlie had come to reclaim his throne. In fact, he had been the owner of a whole fleet of ships that were both berthed and sailed from Aberdeen. Often, those same ships had traded in the many English ports as well as other ports around Europe. All he had to do was find one and use it as a means of escape, he had once thought after he had been arrested. Then he could set sail back home.
But with the disaster at Culloden and Charlie fleeing for his life back to Italy behind him, he had been told by his barrister that his fleet had been confiscated because of his participation in helping the Prince get away. They now sailed under English colors, much to his chagrin. But there was little he could do about it, except start over.
It was something he was good at—he had had lots of practice at it over the
years. Hundreds of years, as a matter of fact.
The British Colonies
The rain seemed to stop only momentarily as the ship slipped into its berth at dockside in the strange harbor. The hatches were thrown open at long last; all those from below decks were herded above, blinking at the small, bright rays of sun that escaped the dark clouds that still threatened rain. As the last of the prisoners set foot on deck, a roar of thunder was heard and the skies opened up again, drenching the prisoners thoroughly.
Despite the rain, they were shuffled down to dockside, their legs weakened by the time at sea and by deprivation. Many fell as they took their first steps on dry land in weeks; others dropped to their knees to thank the Lord that they had survived the voyage alive.
An armed patrol surrounded them and one by one, the prisoner’s names were called out. “MacDonald, MacGregor, Stuart…” the list seemed to go on forever. The Highlander who had had the porthole seat through most of the voyage listened carefully as the names of clans were read off and heaved a sigh of relief when any of the MacLeods were not called. Good, at least one of us is safe, the man thought silently as he looked over the town. Or at least, maybe wiser than some of the others.
The patrol escorted them towards what looked to be an auction block. In groups of three or four the prisoners were put on display in front of a still gathering crowd. Questions were put to those on display; some bidding was done as well as some bartering for the individuals whose service was needed in their households.
When it came time for the Scotsman to stand up and have his services bid on, one man called out, “Do you have any trades?”
The Highlander nodded yes as he looked over the crowd. All were hard-workers judging from their homespun clothes and hardened looks except for those that sat daintily in their carriages and bid. He cleared his throat then spoke so all could hear him. “By trade I am a blacksmith, though I have much experience in many other trades as well.” It was not something he relished doing. But he knew that his best chance to go with someone decent was if he showed that he was well worth whatever was bid on him and then some.
Bidding commenced until finally one man had procured his services forever, until the day he died. After signing his name to the papers and the manacles removed, the Highlander took a look around the wharf and asked no one in particular, “What do they call this city?”
“Boston. Boston, in the colony of Massachusetts.“ The gruffly spoken man who had won him replied. “But we be not staying here. We be going northwards to New York colony.” The man looked over his newly won servant then turned and spit. “Don’t look like much of a smithy to me. You sure you know about that trade?”
The prisoner nodded. “Yes, I’ve been practicing it for a very long time. Trust me.” His eyebrows arched upwards in a bemused motion before falling back into place again.
His new owner looked at him closely then jabbed a finger in the prisoner’s chest. “What be your name?”
The prisoner looked off into the distance then answered, “Adrian Montague.”
The other man cracked a smile then pointed at the sky, “Let’s go to the tavern and get out of this miserable stuff. Some hot ale sounds good, doesn’t it?”
A bright smile crossed the Scotsman’s face. “Sounds just like home…”
MWC: I Must Have Loved You
Posted By: Titania CW Pack, <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Friday, 16 November 2001, at 8:06 p.m.
(This scene takes place after the final scene in “Revelations 6:8”.)
Alone, Methos continued to walk away from the submarine base. His final words to MacLeod echoing in his ears “One of a thousand regrets.” He watched the sun sink into the autumn sky, the afternoon’s mist turned to rain and he let it fall on his bare head hoping to cleanse himself of all his sins.
A sound from above caught his attention. A flock of geese were flying south, oblivious to the rain and cold. All these senses of autumn sent him to thinking about Cassandra, the Horsemen and Death. So many regrets, in retrospect most of them seemed to be about this period of his life.
Would Cassandra ever know the torment he put himself through? Would she know that whenever he stopped and let himself think, he thought of her and put himself on trial? Would she ever know that his memories never slept? Would she even care? Would it be enough to still the ghosts in her head?
Subconsciously he wiped the rain off his face. His revere was deep and though his eyes were focused on the setting sun, his mind was elsewhere.
He remembered how beautiful he thought Cassandra was the first time that he saw her, before wiping out all that was dear to her. In his own way he had cared for her at once. He knew that he must take her to himself to protect her from his “brothers”.
Caspian would take his pleasure and then his dinner. Silas would want to keep her as a pet and then turn her out when he got bored. Kronos would be the worst; he would break her mind, use her body and destroy her spirit. Only he, Methos could protect her from their intentions and help her to become something more than she was now. After a time he would raise her to his status and they would rule over the Brothers.
Methos felt the pain of regret sharper than ever before. He raised his face to the sky and allowed the rain to do its worst. His arms lifted toward the heavens. From his mouth came the anguish and pain from thousands of years. The sound startled the geese out of their pattern and brought Methos to his knees. The cry turned into sobs while his tears mingled with the rain.
* * *
Out of the corner of her eye Cassandra saw the geese scatter in the sky. A second later she heard the primitive howl of pain. A sound easily recognized by her own anguish. Somewhere in the rainfall she though she heard “I must have loved you!”
I watch the western
The sun is sinking
The geese are flying south
It sets me to thinking
I did not miss you much
I did not suffer
What did not kill me
Just made me tougher
I feel the winter come
His icy sinews,
Now in the firelight
The case continues
Another night in court
The same old trial
The same old question asked
The same denial
The shadows close around me
Like jury members
I look for answers in
The fire's ember
Why was I missing then
That whole December?
I give my usual line,
I don’t remember
Another winter comes
His icy fingers creep
Into these bones of mine
These memories never sleep
And all these differences
A cloak I borrowed
We kept our distance
Why should it follow that
I must have loved you?
What is the force that binds the stars?
I wore this mask to hide my scars
What is the power that pulls the tide?
Never could find a place to hide
What moves the earth around the sun?
What could I do but run and run and run?
Afraid to love, afraid to fail
A mast without a sail
The moon’s a fingernail
And slowly sinking
Another day begins
And now I’m thinking
That this indifference
Was my invention
When everything I did
Sought your attention
You were my compass star
You were my measure
You were a pirate’s map
Of buried treasure
If this was all correct
The last thing I’d expect
The prosecution rests
It’s time that I confessed
I must have loved you
I must have loved you
CD: A Brand New Day
1999 A&M Records
Posted By: vixen69 <email@example.com>
Date: Friday, 16 November 2001, at 8:25 p.m.
This hasn't the greatest resolution--these two never do.
She cursed in the curious amalgam of effective curse-languages she happened to know—the net result being a dark cloud, and rain, to add colorfully to the already unpleasant frame of mind she was in when she first heard the “fwap-fwap-fwap—THUD-THUD….etc.” of her tire going flat. Mentally, she performed a banishing, but the rain continued. Apparently, the rain was meant to be. Closing her eyes, the considered what she wanted to do. There was a doughnut in the trunk—and she had ample experience with the changing of tires, having driven since the days of the hand crank and gaslight. But in the pouring rain, with, she was well aware, simply the standard-issue car jack at hand, and with night closing in, she felt it would be a less-than-happy undertaking. Hating the necessity of relying on others, she slipped the cell phone out of its case and prepared to dial her road service…
And realized that she hadn’t charged the phone in a week…or so. More like “or so.”
“And so I sit,” she muttered, settling against the beige interior of her sedan and checking the sky. The rain would let up eventually. Of course, freak storms *occasionally * led to freak floods, rising water…her vehicle winding up in the ditch, requiring towing…
She solidly convinced herself this was not a vision, but an episode of paranoia. She reached for the umbrella under the passenger-side seat, and prepared to attend to the task at hand, but then noted the headlights in the distance, closing in. She squinted in its direction, and made out the form of an SUV. She was in luck—some Good Samaritan (she hoped) yuppie was coming to her aid. A guy in a green Jimmy would probably not be too hard to…encourage…to be of more help than harm.
A slim figure in a trench coat stepped out, shielding himself from the downpour with one arm held up. She opened her car door and then opened the umbrella, as swiftly as she could. And then was seized with the urge to pitch the umbrella, get back in the car, and lock the door.
It was another Immortal.
She reminded herself of her advantages, and then stepped forward to see the face of the man approaching her. She gasped. The face was familiar.
“I suppose you thought you would never be glad to see me,” he quipped.
Glad to see him? Alive and well, and coming to *her * rescue—and, she imagined, smug about it into the bargain? Many things she’d been in her life—glad to see him, she fancied, would never be one of them.
“You are as welcome as a shipment of Ex-lax in the midst of a cholera epidemic,” she grated. To her horror, the man grinned.
“Cassandra, I’m glad to see you and your sense of humor are…here,” he settled on, with a touch of emotion at her feistiness. It was her spirit after all these years he’d come to admire, even if it once vexed him considerably. But in the present, he took it as the function of her personality that had carried her through the years, and found it comforting that it was never destroyed—although it put him in some degree of jeopardy—her possibly being skilled enough—at least experienced enough—to give him a decent challenge on a good day being quite in the forefront of her dealings with him—and unfortunately, his dealings with her.
“I couldn’t help but notice the flat,” he went on, patiently. Whilst she might not be pleased to see him—she certainly would refrain from killing him until *after * he’d ended to her tire.
“I have road service on the way,” she said, stiffly.
“Oh, I see,” he responded, uncomfortably, not, however, leaving. “Would you like me to wait with you—it being dark and all?”
“Look here,” she hissed, for the record—not in the English you’re reading now, but rather the harsh central Asian bedouin language she and he conversed in some three thousand, two hundred and eight years before. Not that anyone was counting. “If I needed your help...I’d…need your help, then,” she finished, echoing through translation a line she’d heard from a t. v. show.
“You have a spare?” Methos asked, with his usual insufferable directness. She felt her blood boiling.
“In the trunk. There’s a jack, and a small tool kit…with a lug wrench,” she found herself snapping.
“Perfect. Just open it up, and I’ll go to work.”
She rather hated the practical way he was going about this. She also hated that he was offering to change the tire himself—why wouldn’t he simply call for assistance…or even just pass on by? Why assist her—even once he knew it was she?
She led him to the trunk, not offering him the assistance of her umbrella, but simply unlocking the boot and and pointing to the various things he might need. “There’s a flashlight, and the…” she lifted a flap, revealing her spare, “doughnut, and I *can * do this myself, Methos.”
“And I’ve no doubt you can…but I volunteered…didn’t I?” he asked. It was trick he had with his voice, to sound innocent—to sound as if he had feelings. He reached for the torch first, and then the tool kit, sticking it under his arm, and the spare. “You’ve a jack?”
She reached into the side panel of the trunk and felt about for the opening, locating the tool. She gruffly passed it to him, wondering if his was looking at her the way he seemed to be looking at her, and wondering if her slightly damp blouse had anything to do with his look. As if it was nothing he’d seen before. And then she was quite ready to stomp off.
“If you could just keep the umbrella…by…well…of course you couldn’t…”: he remarked, even as he knelt to the damaged tire. Women. How far *must * they drive on a damaged tire—it would take patching if only she hadn’t skidded along on the damn thing. He worked at the lugs, only somewhat surprised when she did lean in with the umbrella, sparing him from the relentless rain. “Shouldn’t be long, and then I’ll go.”
“Really,” she said, stiffly.
He doubted his own motivations for an instant. On his knees on the damp pavement, tending to her wheel, he was honestly not sure even what made him stop in the first place, before he was certain it was her. But knowing it was her, even now, and feeling her disdain, he couldn’t help but think it appropriate for him to do the gentlemanly thing by her.
Not like chivalry wasn’t *dead *, and all. His hand slipped on the wrench, and though he’d taken care to nestle the lugs in the hubcap he’d pulled off for safekeeping, the blighted bugger he’d just touched went careening under the chassis. With the torch, he could see where it lay—just beyond reach, not that he didn’t bend down to stretch one long thin arm underneath…and then he realized he was being rained on a bit more than before, and he dimly heard the stomp of heeled boots going their way. He felt a pang of fear. Whatever was the vengeful, and possibly rightfully so, girl going to do know?
Woman, damn it all, fully grown, three thousand, two hundred and….whatever…he paused, readying himself to the unpleasant necessity of defending himself with the torch, if it came to that. She *had * come back with her sword, and he sized up the advantage he had, none. He was kneeling, loss of points for not being on his feet, he was unarmed, unless he thought he could best her with a flashlight, and her sword was sizeable—why were the lissome ones, after all, always going for your * bigger * swords? Hers was a thirty-five-inch blade, two hand-held broadsword—a good six pounder, he thought, being from perhaps the thirteenth century and in the best of condition…
“This should be long enough to reach that…thing,” she admitted, holding out the sword.”
If she were a student of his, he’d chide her for holding the weapon in his reach. As she wasn’t attempting to kill him with it, he appreciated that the very practical girl had simply found the longest tool to recover the lug. He took the weapon from her hand, wondering if in the cloudy mid-evening, she could see that he was coloring, and poked the lug back to where he could get it. Once it was in his hand, he lain the sword down on the road beside him.
She knelt, and put her hand on the hilt. She stayed, kneeling, watching him as he skillfully pulled off the old tire and reset the new. She took the sword hilt full in her hand, and stood. He did not look up until the last lug was tight and in place, but he could feel the point of the sword, almost with a second sense. He looked at her, quite conscious of her grip on the sword.
“I’m done. It should be alright.”
“Do you think so?” she asked, her voice nearly unreadable.
“The spare isn’t meant for high speeds…you know…just be careful,” he said, dully. His eyes seemed to shine with unusual light, and in an instant, she found herself respecting him, just a little more than she hated what he’d done. He *knew * damn well that she could have killed him. He knew. But he was courteous, and didn’t flinch. She let him stand, and let him walk away. And then she turned. Within instants, she felt something at her back. And she knew damn well what it was.
“Never hold it on me like that again, unless you intend to use it. I was being kind, but I’m not…always,” he intoned. She froze, unable to turn to see his face—certain she would know of his intent if she could only *see *. But he was gone, and she felt a tremor in her legs, a shivering so deep she could barely enter the car, but she did. She started it, and watched him pull away.
She wasn’t sure that she hated him in the same way as before. She only knew that she still did.
MWC RR: Water Falls
(not sure about this title though...)
MWC: The Wetting Planners - one of the challenges was to write a short story, scene or poem that takes place in the rain. The Immortal character(s) must be out in the rain almost the entire time.
It was yet another rainy day in the Highlands. He thought he'd never see the sun again and considered building an ark. But today it didn't bother him. He was numb today, the only feeling he had was sadness. Though only a mizzle at the moment, the precipitation was soaking his clothes and jacket.
There weren't many trips to Scotland over the years, but he'd made a point to return once a year since he'd killed Kanwulf. And found Debra's long lost grave.
She had been his first love, and no one ever forgot their first love. Duncan never forgot any of his loves, but some stood out more than others. Namely Debra and Tessa.
He guided the horse silently. A nudge with a knee here, a nudge there as direction. He wasn't paying close attention, feeling as though something guided him. Lost in thought, he remembered a day that had started out much like it was now - cool, damp, and rainy.
Stealing from his bed even before his parents were about one morning, Duncan grabbed his sword and some hunting gear, despite the fact it wasn't his intention to do any hunting. They would presume he couldn't sleep and had gone hunting to help store up for winter provisions.
The sun had just begun to lighten the sky and a mist still hung close to the ground. Making his way quietly through the village and forest to Campbell lands, he crept to Debra's hut. Sounding a grey partridge’s call, he waited for her to come without. Her face was shining with happiness with an edge of tiredness. Duncan smiled to himself; she'd hardly gotten any sleep wondering what it was he had to show her.
Quickly and quietly, they headed out of the village as cows, pigs and sheep drowsily watched them disappear into the forest. No doubt they would both be in trouble if found to be alone together for part of the day. It didn’t bother them much seeing as Duncan was going to ask for Debra hand in marriage. They both knew, along with their families, he was too honorable to despoil her, but a few would look reprovingly on them.
Her hand in his, he led the way, keeping a brisk pace since where he wanted to take her was a wee distance from either of their villages. Once in a while, Debra would ask him where they were headed, but he only looked back at her and smiled, saying "Ye’ll see." And each time she would screw up her face in consternation.
The sun was at the treetops by time they stopped and Duncan told her to close her eyes. Taking her hand, he carefully led her though the trees and foliage. Before they crossed the treeline, there was the faint rumble of a waterfall, but Debra didn’t give any indication of hearing it. She was concentrating on where she placed her feet.
Duncan saw her eyelids tremble. "Keep yer eyes tight," he teased. She stuck her tongue out at him playfully. He resisted the urge to kiss her, showing her there were better things to do with that particular appendage.
Seating her on one of the flat rocks surrounding the small pool, he then sat beside her, as close as propriety would allow and whispered "Ye can open your eyes now." She did so, slowly, not knowing what to expect.
A forty-foot waterfall fell in graceful undulations directly opposite them. Along with the increased drizzle, the spray of the water hitting the pool below sprayed them with a mist. In wide-eyed wonder, Debra took in her surroundings.
The falls moved like a bride’s veil as she walked, never the same movement twice. The pool was almost a perfect circle, funneling out at one point into a burn, doing its job of carrying water away so the area wouldn’t flood. Surrounding vegetation was a lush, rich green, not the duller green of long-furrowed fields and areas with less moisture. This place was untouched, pristine and virgin, calming.
"Oh, Duncan, ’tis wonderful!"
"No’ as bonny as you."
Take it away talented writers! :)
Water Falls: Round 2
Debra hugged her knees to her chest and exhaled with a smile.
"How did you find this place?" she asked.
"I suspect I wasn't looking where I was going," he answered.
"Thinking about something else?" she asked with a shy sidelong glance.
He busied himself by picking up pebbles and small stones. "You," he said.
She moved closer to him, closer than the old women's wagging tongues would have approved of, and pressed her shoulder against his arm. Duncan avoided looking at her when she was this close to him, knowing that would be lost if he did. He spilled the pebbles from one hand to another, then pulled out one with a sharp edge and began to scratch lines in the stone ledge on which they sat.
Duncan started at the sound of a snapped branch behind them in the wood, and he turned wary eyes toward the trees.
MWC RR: Water Falls, Part 3
Posted By: Palladia <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Tuesday, 20 November 2001, at 7:43 a.m.
Watching the woods, waiting, Duncan finally saw a small movement that didn't belong. Slowly, it resolved itself into human shape, sidling from tree to tree in a familiar way, and suddenly, he could identify it: his cousin, Robert.
"The deer would hear ye coming a mile away, Robbie. That is, if they didn't smell ye first!"
"Duncan. Debra," the other responded. "Early to be out. Been out all night, have ye?"
"Nay, Robbie. Just came to see the falls at dawn," Duncan said. He and his cousin had been friends and competitors since they were children, but Robert had a bad side to him, a tendency always to see the worst.
"And that would make her a fallen woman, aye?" In all this exchange, Robbie's eyes had never left Debra, whose hair almost glowed, even in the mist of the waterfall. He wanted to sink his hands into that curling mass of red, pull her head back, taste her throat. Not now, not yet, but some day I shall have her, not Duncan.
Duncan's hand lay lightly on Debra's waist, his sword put by, leaning against an oak whose roots held many of the rocks of the falls in place.
Maybe Duncan came here alone sometimes. It would be a likely place for an accident. No fuss, just a shattered body floating in the pool below the falls, and, in time, a wedding. Or maybe there was another way, a little doubt sown in Debra's father's mind. Duncan looked nothing like a MacLeod, for all the old Lair owned him.
MWC RR: Water Falls, Part 4
Robert half-walked and half-slid down the embankment to the ledge where Duncan and Debra sat. He pushed his face between theirs.
"You should be more careful, Duncan. Think what the old women will be saying about your lady’s virtue tonight."
Debra began to protest, but Robert stopped her by clapping on hand on her shoulder and another on Duncan’s.
"Don’t worry yourselves," he said with a smile. "I’ve been up since before dawn. We’ll just say that we were all together. That should keep the loose tongues quiet."
Robert accepted their thanks and patted them both heartily on the back. He scrambled back up the embankment. At the top, he turned and looked down on Debra and his cousin. He watched them, as ignorant of his presence as if he had never been there, their heads touching. Then Duncan pointed to the waterfall, and Debra laughed at something he said, tossing her head back, her voice high and clear. Robert picked up a fist-sized stone and hefted it a few times.
"Duncan!" he called. Startled, Duncan turned.
"The three of us should meet at the split rock before midday. We can take Debra home together, save her from wagging tongues. What do you say?"
Duncan nodded in agreement and waved. Robert hefted the stone one more time and sent it down the steepest part of the embankment, listening to the satisfying noises it made as it tumbled down and landed in the pool--sharp reports of stone against stone, a deep thunk, and a splash he could hear even above the sound of the waterfall.
Robert disappeared into the wood, unleashing every curse he knew and covering nearly a mile before he decided to look for Old Andrew, the shepherd. By late morning, Robert found him, walking stick in hand, plaid and a small bag slung over his shoulder. Robert reminded himself that Old Andrew was not that old at all, only about the age of his Uncle Ian, Duncan’s father, but the long days in the hills with his flock had aged him. He was a talkative man and a worse gossip than any of the women in the clan, which made the solitary life of a shepherd an odd choice of jobs for him. He greeted Robert and the prospect of conversation with a broad grin.
Sheep, Robert felt, were the stupidest of the Maker’s creations, but he listened as Old Andrew exhausted every detail of what each of his charges had done that day. Robert asked after the sheepdog and after Old Andrew’s children and grandchildren, each separately and in turn. The preliminaries taken care of, Robert steered the conversation to a more interesting subject.
"You’ve been blessed with many strong sons and fine daughters, Andrew," Robert said. "And they’ve given you grandchildren." Old Andrew beamed in agreement.
"You have six sons and two daughters, just like my parents," Robert continued. "‘Tis a pity that Uncle Ian and Aunt Mary only have Duncan, although he’ll be a sure comfort to them in their old age. Tell me, didn’t they want more?"
"Your Aunt Mary lost many. The midwife said it would be a miracle if she ever carried a child until its right time."
Robert made a careful study of his fingernails and cleaned them with his sgian dhu. He said, "How many did she lose, poor thing?"
"I can’t say for sure."
"I could ask the midwife," Robert suggested.
Old Andrew whistled for the sheepdog, and it ran off after a straying sheep. "Won’t do you a bit of good," he said. "It was a different midwife. Right after your cousin Duncan was born, Ian banished her. She hasn’t been seen since."
The sheepdog stood near a tumble of boulders, barking for attention. Old Andrew spit on the ground and set off, mumbling about what trouble sheep were. As he left, Robert decided to plant a seed.
"Why in God’s name would Uncle Ian send away a midwife who’d worked a miracle?" he shouted to the departing shepherd.
MWC RR: Water Falls Part 5
Posted By: Robin <Catnature@yahoo.com>
Date: Tuesday, 20 November 2001, at 2:28 p.m.
Jealous is a dangerous thing, very dangerous idea.
Robert had entered into a dangerous place. He was asking questions that were better let unspoken. His questions were a danger to Duncan and that was something that could not be allowed.
Duncan and Debra were not aware of the white wolf that had been watching them from the treeline. Neither was Robert as he crashed through the brush and leaves.
Talking the the old shepard was Robert biggest mistake. Something had to be done and done now.
The right herbs and words added to the fire and it was done.
As the firelight bounced off her hair she whispered, "I'm sorry Duncan."
Water Falls (Rounds 6-10)
Posted By: Wain, bringing it up to the top <email@example.com>
Date: Monday, 26 November 2001, at 4:58 a.m.
"D’ye think we’ve done wrong tae steal away like this, Duncan?" The sound of Debra’s bright laughter now faded away into doubt. "Perhaps we should head back now. I dinna like the thought that Robbie has found us together like this, ye know his temper."
"He’ll no’ say anything about our meeting and will find us as arranged," Duncan soothed, although he realized that matters between him and his cousin were rapidly coming to a head.
He tenderly took her smaller hands in his. "Debra," Duncan’s voice stared to break, "I know ye are pledged tae Robbie and I know everything has been arranged for ye tae marry, but I’m sure ye can see how I feel about ye. I always have."
She raised her face toward him, tears glowing in her eyes like the drops sprayed from the waterfall behind her. "I’ve known from the moment I first laid eyes on ye, Duncan MacLeod, ye’d be my only true love. It is only duty tae my family that will prevent us from being together. All I’ve ever wanted was tae raise a family and grow old with ye—it is a dream that’ll never be." Bowing her head, she sighed deeply and could no longer hold the tears back. They spilled onto her skirt and mingled with the spray from the falls.
Duncan was undone by the sight of his love in such pain, and he struggled to keep his own emotions at bay. His hand rose to her chin and tipped her face to him, brushing the tears away. "Debra, if ye desire it so, I shall speak to your father. I’ll ask for your hand. Surely, he would look favorably on a Chieftain’s son!"
"Would ye? Perhaps ye are right—he canna refuse the idea of his daughter marrying someone who’ll someday lead a clan. Someone who’ll make his daughter happy and give him many fine grandsons." Taking a strip of cloth from a pocket, she dried her eyes and attempted to smile, knowing that the odds were still very much against them.
Duncan rose from his seat on the ledge and extended his arm to her. When they gotten their footing once more he turned to face her and lowered his head to hers. He saw her tremble. "Debra, this kiss is my pledge and promise to honor and love ye always."
"This is my pledge tae ye, too, Duncan," she whispered just before their lips met in the briefest of kisses.
"Then, it’s settled. I will ask my father tae accompany me as soon as possible tae visit yer father. We should go now and meet Robbie as planned."
The couple arrived at the appointed time at the rendezvous, but there was no sign of Robert MacLeod. Duncan and Debra both tried to quell the feelings of dread they shared—in the agitated states that Robert sometimes got into, they both knew he was capable of anything. As they decided to head back to the village to see if he was there, they came across Old Andrew, the shepherd.
"Andrew, have ye seen Robbie MacLeod by any chance?" Duncan asked.
"Aye, had a nice conversation with the lad earlier this morning. Bit odd, though he was asking about yer dear mother, Duncan, and why poor Mary had no more children than ye. I told him he’d never know that because yer father banished the midwife the night ye were born."
"What?" Duncan gasped. "What did ye say?" He sprung at Andrew and grabbed him roughly by the coat.
Debra threw herself between the two men, "Duncan? Duncan, stop!" He finally heard her and released the old man.
"Andrew, Andrew, I am sorry and hope ye can find it in yerself tae forgive me. It’s just that bit o’news I’ve never heard before. It matters no’ right now. Did Robbie say where he was going? We must find him."
He thought for a moment, "No, no’ really, but I did meet him on the road to the Campbell lands. I’d say he was going to visit yer family, wee Debra!"
Fear gripped the young couple as they headed towards the Campbell lands. Both were worried about what Robert would do.
Suddenly they heard a slight moan coming from the side of the road. Looking at each other, Duncan motioned for Debra to stay back. He drew his sword and headed cautiously towards where the moan had come from.
Duncan looked into the weeds on the side of the road and gasp. "Robbie." He quickly knelt down. "Robbie." He touched his cousin's cheek and drew back in shock.
"Debra, it be Robert and he has the fever."
As it turned out, no one thought to ask where Duncan and Debra had gone that morning when they stumbled onto Campbell lands, he sweating and straining with the effort of carrying his fevered cousin, she hauling both men’s hunting gear.
No matter who else came to care for Robert, Duncan was always there—through the days, when the fever was at its highest, and through the nights, when Robert’s soul seemed about to flee his body. The afternoons of high, delirious fever were the worst for both of them.
"Duncan?" Robert asked on the fourth day, eyes glazed and unseeing.
Duncan made reassuring noises and mopped Robert’s forehead.
"I must find Duncan." Robert’s voice was growing anxious. "Find him for me? I must ask his forgiveness. I didn’t mean it. It was for Debra, you see?"
"What does he mean?" Robert’s mother asked, an infusion of willow bark tea in her hand.
Duncan shook his head. "I don’t know."
Robert repeated his words, agitated, skin hot and dry, growing steadily more incoherent. He nearly batted the cup out of his mother’s hand.
"Find him! He has to forgive me!"
Duncan turned his cousin’s face to him and patted his cheek. He met and tried to hold the fevered eyes.
"Robert, he does forgive you. Duncan forgives you," Duncan said. "Will you drink this tea for him?"
Relieved, Robert drank the willow bark tea and fell into a fell into a light and restless sleep.
Duncan stepped outside to escape the smell of illness and peat smoke. He took a few deep breaths and began to walk in slow circles, stretching his legs, but never going far from where Robert was.
He smiled when he saw her, not a broad and happy smile, but a tight and tired one. Debra crossed to him, a knotted square of fabric in her hands.
"Borage flowers for tea," Debra said as an answer to Duncan’s raised eyebrows. "My mother asked me to bring them. How is he?"
The tight smile faded. "He’s no better, Debra."
Debra looked back the way she came.
"Duncan," she said in a hesitant voice. "My father says you’re a loyal clansman to sit with Robert day and night. If you were to talk to him now . . . "
"Now’s no time for me ask for your hand, Debra!" Duncan said sharply. When he spoke again, his voice was steadier. "When the fever’s high, all Robert does is talk about us. I think we brought the sickness on him."
She lowered her eyes to the ground and twisted the bag in her hand.
"He’s asked for you," Duncan said. "Can you help us tend to him?"
Debra spent the next three days caring for Robert, joining her intended’s mother and cousin in laying cool, wet cloths on his forehead and in coaxing infusions down his throat. She was there when Robert’s fever broke, and the relief was as plain on her face as it was on the faces of Robert’s mother and Duncan.
When Robert was strong enough to sit a horse, he and his mother and Duncan set off for MacLeod lands. Debra reached up to Robert and patted his forearm before wishing him a good journey. She said her farewells to Robert’s mother and then walked to Duncan. She patted his forearm, too, but her hand lingered there, and she gave a meaningful look across the village.
Robert watched her hand on Duncan’s arm and followed her look across the village to her father. He looked again at Debra’s hopeful face and at Duncan’s back. He narrowed his eyes and made a small grunt.
Duncan was beside him in a second, his hand at Robert’s elbow, asking if he were well.
Robert gave him a strained smile and asked to go home.
Gratitude. Robbie was told, at every turn, that he should be grateful to Duncan for his diligent nursing, for his having found Robbie sick unto death, in the first place. Duncan, Duncan, the name was said with smiles and approval, until Robbie could hardly force his mouth to say the words of agreement, could hardly even nod.
Always, he saw the curling flames of Debra's hair, as she moved at her work,
turned toward Duncan like a flower toward the sun. Duncan, who looked nothing
like Robbie, black-haired
Duncan, who laughed with Debra, carried her baskets for her, Duncan, who caressed her with a glance. They found excuses to be together, unspeaking, laughing occasionally with the sheer joy of each other's presence.
Every morning, Robbie wound his way to the waterfalls, but never again found them there. It was as if they somehow understood that he would do ill, he thought; as if, after the fever, they somehow knew it had burned away the boyish charm he had sometimes had, and left only the smoldering desire for Debra - and the urge to destroy Duncan, to whom he owed such gratitude.
Andrew the shepherd had made his mark in all innocence, remarking on the occasional odd black sheep in a flock of white, how it must not be allowed to breed, lest more black sheep come whose wool would not take dye.
I will cut out that black sheep, Robert MacLeod swore to himself. He'll not have my ewe. Debra Campbell will have my bairns, and she'll forget my "cousin," Duncan the Dark.
Duncan was no blithering idiot. He must know how Robbie felt. He did know, Robbie was sure, and all his good nature, all his show of caring for Robbie was just a pretense, an attempt to soothe Robbie into inaction. But Robbie was no fool, either, and little rumors began to worm their way into the clan's awareness, questions of what had ever become of the old midwife who had delivered the wives twoscore years ago.
Ian MacLeod sat on a squat boulder, surrounded by the men he led. The matter at hand was serious—another lost lamb.
"How many does that make since Easter?" Ian asked.
Old Andrew replied, "Five, and you can be sure it was the Campbells that took them." Murmurs and nods greeted Old Andrew’s assessment of the situation.
"It makes no sense, Drew," Ian said, waving his hand to quiet the others.
"We shouldn’t trust them," said a voice from the back.
Ian raised his eyebrows. "It makes no sense. The winter wasn’t harsh, so there’s plenty of game." A few heads bobbed in agreement. Ian continued, "This year’s crops show promise." Some of the men made superstitious gestures against the bold temptation of fate their leader had brought down on the harvest.
Ian leaned forward and placed his forearms against his knees, making eye contact with all of the village men in turn as he spoke. "If the Campbells were hungry, they wouldn’t take five lambs in two months, would they now? It’s hardly enough to feed them, is it?"
"They may not need the lambs, but they might take them just to vex us," Old Andrew suggested. "It wouldn’t be the first time." The men began to talk among themselves and raise their voices.
"The Campbells have lost six lambs from their own flocks," Duncan added. The anger that had building in the assembled crowd faded.
"If you keep skulking around Campbell lands, they’ll think you did it, Duncan," Robert accused. "Do you want to provoke them?"
Duncan furrowed his brows and made to answer, but the rest of the men ignored Robert and began to make suggestions about what had happened to the lambs.
Ian interrupted them with a question. "Even if we never find out what happened to the five lambs, what do we do to ensure the safety of the rest of the flocks?"
He listened with care to the overlapping voices and singled out the best ideas—shifting the flocks lower down the mountains, drafting two men to accompany the village’s sheep day and night, and searching Donan Wood for wolves.
"And one more thing," Ian said. "We invite the Campbells to celebrate Midsummer with us, up by the split rock where our lands meet."
Ian slapped his hands against his thighs and stood, dismissing the crowd. Duncan stayed behind with his father when the others left.
"You knew what you were going to say before you even brought them together, did you not?" Duncan asked.
Ian stood and waited. Duncan took his cue to finish. "Then you let them say what they needed to, asked them make all of the suggestions they could, and added the one that was missing."
Ian smiled and clapped his son on the shoulder. "You’re learning. Keep it up, lad, and you’ll be ready to lead this clan one day. Now, who’s to take the invitation to the Campbells?"
Water Falls (Rounds 11-15)
Posted By: Wain, bringing it up to the top <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Monday, 26 November 2001, at 4:59 a.m.
Ian studied his son’s face, puzzled by the fact that Duncan had not immediately accepted the challenge of taking the MacLeods’ invitation to the Campbells. He felt sure that his son would long for the chance to see Debra again. "I may be advancing in my years," Ian thought to himself, "but I do remember what it was like to love so much that ye felt ye would burn from it."
"Something wrong, Duncan?" Ian asked, giving the young man an opportunity to talk.
"No…yes…Father. It’s Debra, you see…" Duncan mumbled in an embarrassed way and kicked at the rocks at his boots, his earlier confidence beginning to diminish.
"What is it, lad? Sit and tell me." Ian motioned for Duncan to join him on a nearby bench. "Is it that hard tae say that ye love her?" he asked gently.
"Aye, especially when she is betrothed tae Robert. I dinna think that can be changed, even though she doesna love him—she loves me. And that has turned Robert’s heart against the both of us." It was clear that Robert and Duncan’s strained relationship was taking a heavy toll on Duncan. And he feared that in anger, Robert might even raise his hand to Debra once they were married.
"What would ye have me do, Duncan?"
"I thank ye, Father, but this is my battle to fight. I was tae meet with Debra’s father when we found Robert so ill with the fever. I shall go tae the Campbells with the invitation. And I will do what was planned before, I will ask for Debra’s hand."
"Aye, ye are a good lad, strong and true. Would ye do me the honor and allow me to accompany you?" Ian asked, clasping Duncan at the shoulder.
The young man smiled, glad for the reassurance, putting his hand over his father’s, "Of course, Father, of course."
Duncan MacLeod was good with a sword but awkward around the lassies--and more awkward still at the prospect of visiting one of their fathers. Ian smiled at his son and gave a slight shake of his head. On the walk to visit Debra’s father, out of their own village, past Old Andrew’s flock, climbing higher and higher, Duncan had moved with all of the grace and confidence of the knock-kneed, gangly-armed thirteen-year-old boy he had once been.
When father and son reached the split rock that marked the place where MacLeod and Campbell lands touched, they turned around and looked down the glen toward Glenfinnan and Loch Shiel. Duncan swallowed hard and pointed out Old Andrew’s sheep, grazing below them.
"At least when those poor beasties are led to slaughter, they don’t know what’s going to happen to them," he said. "It’s better not knowing."
Ian nodded toward the village. "Do you want to go back?"
Duncan turned and strode toward Debra’s village, and Ian kept pace with him all the way. When they arrived in front of Lochlyn Campbell’s black hut, Duncan spread his hand on the stone wall as if to draw strength from it—or to reassure himself that it was real. Ian looked at his son. Duncan’s pulse beat wildly at the base of his throat. Ian gave an encouraging smile, and they went inside.
Ian and Lochlyn spent a good deal of time exchanging pleasantries before discussing how to defuse the escalating tensions the rash of missing sheep had caused between the two clans. Duncan’s fingers worked the edge of his plaid until it was nearly frayed, but the dim space in the small stone building, made even dimmer by the cloudy day, hid his nervous gestures.
When Ian broached the topic of marriage, Duncan nearly tore the fabric in two.
"Marriage?" Lochlyn asked. He turned to Duncan, who quieted his hands. "My daughter Rose would be pleased to marry a fine lad like yourself, but we must wait until her older sister, Debra, has been wed."
Ian cleared his throat. "Not Rose," he said. "It’s Debra we’ve come to ask for."
"It cannot be done," Lochlyn stated. "She’s promised to your nephew Robert."
"Aye, but," Duncan started. Ian silenced him with a nearly unnoticeable movement of his right hand. A slight inclination of Ian’s head sent Duncan outside to wait.
Lochlyn narrowed his eyes. "What are you up to, Ian? We’re more alike than different, the Campbells and the MacLeods. You and me against each other, unless an outsider comes. Then it’s you and me against the others, until the others go away. Then it’s you and me against each other again. I won’t have the Campbells used to drive a wedge between you and your brother’s boy, Ian. If you have a score to settle, we won’t be the weapon you use on him."
"That’s not it," Ian said.
"What else could it be?" Lochlyn glowered at him. "Unless you mean to say that there’s a reason to wed Debra to your son quickly to remove a stain on her honor."
Ian met the other man’s eyes and stated as firmly as he could without raising his voice, "I’d challenge any man myself who spoke ill of your daughter, Lochlyn." He searched for words, looking nearly as uncomfortable as Duncan had earlier.
"They’ve fallen in love, Lochlyn. I know the lad’s heart. Ask Debra her own."
Lochlyn made a dismissive noise. He crossed his arms over his chest and gave Ian a long, searching look.
"There’ll be talk if we break the betrothal with Robert," Lochlyn said.
"A chieftain who has his people as well in hand as you will certainly be a lesson to me. With your fine example in mind, I’m sure I’ll be able to handle the gossip in Glenfinnan."
Lochlyn leaned forward and lowered his voice. "Ian MacLeod, I’ll risk telling you something I wouldn’t say to most men. You’ve only one son. Sometimes, men with only one son consent too much." He held up his hand to forestall any answer Ian might give him. "I’ll think about it for the next month. After midsummer, I’ll let you know."
Ian nodded his agreement. "That brings me to the other reason for my visit, Lochlyn—Johnsmas. The MacLeods would be honored if the Campbells would join them at the midsummer celebration."
Outside the black hut, Duncan’s toe had dug a hole nearly two inches deep in the ground while he waited. He started to attention when his father and Lochlyn came out into the gray afternoon. Ian and Lochlyn said their good-byes in formal tones. Ian set out for home, Duncan following along.
When they had cleared Lochlyn’s village, Duncan asked, "Johnsmas?"
"Yes, they’ll celebrate with us, up by the split rock where our lands touch."
Duncan closed his eyes for a moment and asked, "Debra?"
Ian gave his son a tight smile. "We’ll see, lad. We’ll see."
The boat slipped back away into the dark waters of the loch, and the gray-haired man waved a farewell from shore. The oarsman gave a single curt nod in response. If he had noticed that Iseabail Gordon looked uncomfortable on the journey across the water, he gave no sign.
Uncomfortable she had been, and more and more so as she and her husband, Angus, neared the end of their journey. Angus turned to order their belongings; Iseabail remained facing the loch, her fingers knotted in her shawl. She could still hear the oar bang from time to time against the wooden boat with a deep, hollow sound.
Angus took his wife gently by the shoulders and turned her to face him.
"I wish we weren’t so close to Glenfinnan," she said for the hundredth time that day.
"I know. If you don’t want to go there, then you won’t." He chafed her shoulders gently. Looking around, he found a dry patch of ground and led her there.
She undid the tie on her long hair, white peppered with a few dark strands, smoothed it back, and tied it again. "Angus, it is not so much a matter of whether I want to go as whether I can."
"’Tis a hard thing to look back on what might have been," Angus said. "Do you wish you had stayed?"
Iseabail gave her husband a fond smile and tucked his hair behind one ear as she spoke. "It was hard to leave at the winter solstice. It was cold and I was hungry. If they had to send me away, it would have been easier in the spring. But no, Angus Gordon, I don’t wish I had stayed. If I had stayed in Glenfinnan, I never would have met you or seen so much of this land. My life is as it should be."
She started to rub her fingers, delicate and tapered, but with the knuckles swollen, red, and distorted. "And with these hands, God he knows I wouldn’t be a midwife anymore."
Angus’ eyes flicked to her hands, and he crossed to one of their bags and opened it. He brought a small wooden box to Iseabail and opened it. He peered inside.
"What do your hands say? Will we have that storm tomorrow that the oarsman predicted?" She nodded in agreement.
"Here, let me," he said, gesturing to her hands, and she extended them. He scooped some of the red salve with two fingers and began to massage it gently into her skin, tracing gingerly over the knuckles, more firmly on the back of her hands. "It’s almost gone, Iseabail."
"We can pick more flowers soon; they’ll bloom this week or next."
Angus feigned surprise. "Is that why they call it St. John’s wort? Because it blooms on Johnsmas?"
He massaged and listened as she told him where to find the plant, how to prepare salve and infusion from it, and the various ills it would help.
"It wasn’t your hands that made you a good midwife, Iseabail," Angus said. "It was what you knew. What you still know."
He put the lid back on the wooden box. The wind shifted and brought with it a faint smell of peat smoke and fainter smells of cooking. Angus stood slowly, wincing and rubbing one knee. He offered a hand to his wife and asked, "Well, old woman, shall we go to see the Campbells? At last year’s harvest fair, I promised Lochlyn Campbell I’d sing for him at midsummer, and I mean to keep my word, God willing."
Iseabail stood and helped Angus shoulder his lap harp. She picked up a bag and indicated her husband’s sore knee. "Does your knee agree with my hands, Angus? Will it rain tomorrow?"
Angus groaned and winced. "Aye, it will."
Iseabail patted Angus on the arm and took a step toward the village where Lochlyn Campbell lived. "Are you coming, old man?"
Duncan's heart sank when he heard the words, "We'll see."
From the time he was a boy, when his father hated to disappoint him, but couldn't give him what he wanted, these had been the words he'd used. Duncan wondered to himself, bitterly, why his father didn't just say, "When pigs fly."
Slowly, day by day as Johnsmas approached, Duncan began to resign himself to the cold fact: He could not have Debra for his own. She would marry Robbie, and whatever happened after that would happen. He stayed away from Campbell lands after the meeting with her father, wandered far abroad, hunting, watching game, walking the roads.
When he came across the tinker's caravan, he smiled: every year, the old man made a circuit through the Highlands, selling pots and pans, crockery, repairing household items, bringing news. Duncan had snared a rabbit that day, and offered it to Jamie for stew. Sitting at the fire, watching the pot bubble, he told the story, glad to be talking to someone not in either family, someone who had yet known him since he was a child.
The words tumbled out, bits and pieces, and Jamie fitted them together like a puzzle, from long custom hearing tangled stories. Debra was lost to Duncan, yet still there, still craved, as a comforting potion.
However much he might seem resigned, Jamie knew, some part of Duncan still hoped, still cried itself to sleep at night like a homesick child.
"Ye'll make yersel' sick, wanting, lad. Sometimes we canna have what we want, and the wanting destroys us. Let her go. There will be other lassies."
What did Jamie know of love, roaming in his caravan, alone? Duncan spooned up the stew, offered his host the bowl, served himself. He broke up some firewood, added it to the fire for light, then divided the bannock in half, part for each.
Jamie smiled at the careful division of the food, at the good lad who had grown into a strapping man. "Duncan," he began, "I wasn't always old, and I didn't start life as a tinker. I haven't handled a sword for years, but once, I could.
"My home was Aberdeen, and I haven't seen it for over thirty years. I left for much the same reason that you will leave Glenfinnan."
Duncan looked up, sharply, and drew in breath to speak, but Jamie's raised hand stopped him.
"You will leave, laddie, you can do no other. You will not be able to stand to watch your Debra with another. Accept it and go on."
Jamie got to his feet, climbed into the caravan, and began to search. A muffled clanking told of his digging deep into the wares he carried. When he came back to the fire, it had settled to coals, and Duncan's face was barely lit as he lay stretched like a cat beside the warmth.
"She'll no' be yer wife, laddie, but she'll no' really be his, either. That's the way of it. He'll get a body to warm his winter nights, but you'll have the memory to warm all your years. I should stay well out of this, but I give you this. Do as you like with it, but were Debra my love, I'd give it to her."
Jamie dropped the heavy silver bracelet into Duncan's hand and folded his fingers over it. Then Jamie lay down across the fire, and slept.
Round 15 (I found it!)
Posted By: Wain, with sincere apologies for sloppy archiving
Date: Monday, 26 November 2001, at 12:33 p.m.
Mary gave an exasperated sigh when she saw Duncan across the village, finally making his way home. He was gone more and more often now, and for longer and longer periods of time—overnight, this time. She had watched her husband grow angry and frustrated with their son, warning him that it was hard to lead a clan of men if you didn’t take the time to stay with them.
Duncan leaned over and dropped a distracted kiss on his mother’s cheek.
"Your father wants you to take your turn guarding the sheep. Old Andrew’s flock is up by Donan Wood today."
Duncan disappeared into their home. Mary followed in a minute, offering help even though Duncan was a grown man who needed none. He turned suddenly from where he was arranging the pelt at the foot of his bed, a worried look in his eye. Mary prepared a bag of food for him, and he left.
After Duncan had gone, Mary went to his bed. Her hand hovered over it for a moment, hesitating, and then dived under the pelt. She withdrew a heavy object wrapped in a scrap of fabric. Untying the package, she discovered a wide silver bracelet set with three large stones. She turned a sad face toward the door of their home, rewrapped the bracelet, and put it back in its hiding place.
¶ ¶ ¶
The barking of Old Andrew’s dog met Duncan as he approached the flock. Duncan called a greeting back to the dog, but didn’t otherwise distract it from its sweep around the sheep that were farthest scattered from the shepherd.
Old Andrew knelt beside an old, recently shorn ewe. He bent her foreleg and pressed her cloven hoof into a round wooden box of broom ointment. She flinched, and Old Andrew ran his fingers, thick and callused from years of milking twice a day, every day, over the ewe to gentle her.
He didn’t look up as Duncan approached, but only said, "Your father already sent someone to help keep watch today." He pointed to Donnell, seated some hundred feet away and eyeing the sheepdog.
"Aye," Duncan agreed, "and he’ll send at least one more. When the sheep are this close to Donan Wood, he feels there’s more danger of a wolf attack."
Old Andrew snorted. "Or an attack by a man."
"Wolf or man will find good cover in the wood, so Father sent me," Duncan said. "You believe it’s a man?"
"It was a good winter," Old Andrew said. "There’s plenty of game for the wolves. They don’t need to risk coming so close to us to hunt lambs."
Duncan’s defense of his father’s point of view was interrupted by the sheepdog’s barking. Robert whistled to dog and walked up to Duncan and Old Andrew.
"You’re to be the third, then," the shepherd said. Robert nodded agreement and staked out a place to sit halfway between Donnell and Duncan.
Despite the urgent need to protect the village’s flocks that had sent the men up by Donan Wood, it was a pleasant day with time for conversation, bawdy jokes, and out-of-tune singing. There was enough for the sheep to graze on that they didn’t stray far, and the sun broke through the early morning clouds and shone all day long.
Long the day was, too, for it was only two weeks to midsummer, and the men took turns napping after they ate. Old Andrew spent the time caring for his sheep, checking eyes and legs and hooves. Even the ram submitted to a quick going-over.
Duncan occupied the time when Donnell and Robert napped in caring for his own charges—dirk and sgian dhu and even claymore—for his father had insisted that the men be well armed in the unlikely event that the sheep-stealer went on two feet instead of four.
As the day drew to a close, Old Andrew and the dog herded the flock into a small space bounded by themselves, Duncan, Donnell, and Robert. The sheep bleated and jostled for position for a while, and then settled down to sleep. The other men followed, Old Andrew snoring loudly. Duncan was restless from a long day of inactivity and found it impossible to sleep. He wrapped himself in his plaid and stretched out on the ground, looking up into an unusually cloudless sky, the stars and planets sparkling brightly, and the Milky Way stretching in a wide band from the southern horizon to the northern.
At some point, he must have dozed, for the next time he looked at the sky, the moon was overhead. A rustle came from the direction of the wood. He eased to one elbow silently, opening his mouth slightly to hear better, flaring his nostrils to smell better, willing his eyes to see beyond trees and ferns into the dark of Donan Wood.
The softest of whispers carried across the field. "Do you hear that, Duncan?"
He barely breathed his answer, "Aye, Robert, I do."
A wolf cleared the shadow line of the wood and came into the clearing, ears at attention, edging silently toward the flock. Both men slipped their dirks into their hands at the sight.
Old Andrew stopped snoring, and the wolf stood still, a single paw poised just off the ground. For a long minute, Robert, Duncan, and the wolf stayed frozen. Old Andrew turned to his side suddenly, snorting and gasping for air. The wolf’s shoulders twitched in the moonlight, and it bounded back into the safe, dark cover of Donan Wood.
Water Falls (Rounds 16-19)
Posted By: Wain, bringing it up to the top <email@example.com>
Date: Monday, 26 November 2001, at 5:01 a.m.
In the softest of whispers, Duncan told Donned that Robbie would track the wolf with him. Heading for the point where the wolf had faded into the woods, bent almost double, Duncan slowly traced the turned leaves, the odd shed hair. He and Robbie got as far as the rocky cliffs, and then there was no further sign. There might be a den up there, but it would take more than two men to search.
Frustrated, Robbie and Duncan laughed shortly, and as one, lifted their kilts to mark the site, leaving a message for the wolf. Doubtless they hadn't seen the last of the predator, but it hadn't heard the end of them, either.
If only it weren't for Debra, Duncan thought, there would be no problem between Robbie and me, and everything could be as it was: I had no brother, he had none, and we were clansmen together: Bare is back without brothers.
After Johnsmas, Duncan thought. I must leave then. One last clan feast, and. . .
A bleating sheep made them hurry back to where the flock was laid up. Had the wolf lost them, circled around, caught one? But it was only Andrew, catching a ewe with his crook, absorbing the jerking as she tried unsuccessfully to pull her hind leg away from it. Hand over hand, he worked his way down the crook, caught her fleece in both hands, and expertly upended her to check her udder. She was in good milk, and today was her day to be sheared. Her twins stood, watching, understanding nothing except that their mother was upset.
"It's a wolf, all right. We'll have to search the cliff. I'll get the rest of the men," Duncan told Andrew. Leaving Robert and Donnell to guard, he set off at a steady jogtrot back to the village.
§ § §
"Aye, if he's in the cliffs, we'll need ropes and more men," Duncan's father agreed. "Go see if old Campbell will send us some. Get those you can, and we'll meet at the split rock."
There was an awkward pause, but Duncan finally shrugged, ducked into the house, and left for the Campbells' lands. Lochlyn was happy to send men to search the cliffs, hoping to get rid of the problem. Unbidden, Duncan's eyes searched for Debra, but she was not there. Nay, lad, Lochlyn thought. My lass is off doing the laundry, good fortune for us all.
Hungrily, Duncan searched for a glimpse of Debra, but finally gave up, unaware of the pitying watchfulness of Campbell.
The bracelet was hooked around the belt cinching up his plaids, a lump he could feel that almost matched the lump in his throat. Debra, Debra, the name as clear in his mind as the image of her face that haunted him. Debra, lost forever. Soon, now.
The burn’s water sang as it skipped down to the loch, and the sound of laundry being beaten on rocks made a pleasant counterpoint. Iseabail worked quickly, slapping a heavy, wet shirt against a flat stone and kneading it before dipping it back into the icy water. She weighted it with a smaller stone and tucked her swollen, red hands into her armpits.
"Shall I help you?" Debra asked.
Iseabail eyed Debra’s large pile of laundry and her own smaller one. "It’s kind of you, lass," she said, "but I’ll do. Keeping me company is the best help."
She untucked her hands from beneath her arms, fished the shirt from under the water, wrung it, and draped it over a small clump of heath. While there wasn’t enough sun to actually dry the shirt, having any moisture at all depart into the thin mountain air would make the laundry lighter to carry home.
Debra was working hard enough to have broken into a sweat, both fists crammed into a mass of linen, her breasts shaking as she rocked back and forth. She stopped for a moment, and with the back of her hand, she pushed her damp, red curls from her forehead and extended an invitation to Iseabail.
"If you’d like, you can come when I cut heather for Johnsmas this afternoon. Then I can help you gather St. John’s wort. I know a place where it fairly carpets the ground. We can fill three or four baskets without having to scour every bit of Campbell lands."
"Thank you. I’d like that," Iseabail said. "Do you know where foxglove grows?" She had a pair of stockings in her hands, and was scrubbing them with a hard, yellow soap that made her delicate hands even redder.
"Foxglove?" Debra asked.
"It makes a good potion for the heart," Iseabail explained.
Debra gave the old woman a sly look. "A love potion?"
Iseabail stopped rubbing the stockings against each other and laughed. "No, Debra. A potion for faint hearts that beat too slow."
Debra took the stockings from her and rinsed them in the cold water. She squeezed them mostly dry, hung them on a gorse bush, and kneeled close to Iseabail, lowering her voice conspiratorially.
"But you ken how to make love potions, aye?"
Iseabail snorted. "What would a beautiful girl like you need with love potions? I’m sure you have more than enough suitors, being the daughter of Lochlyn Campbell as well as beautiful."
Debra frowned. "I have two, but my father hasn’t decided which is the one I’ll marry. The one I want, well . . . he hasn’t come around for two weeks now. What if he doesn’t love me anymore? He’ll be at the Johnsmas celebration."
"Lovage leaves and yarrow, steeped in whisky and sweetened with honey," Iseabail said. "That will help your suitor, but why bother if your father chooses the other man instead?"
Debra waved a dismissive hand. "That potion would taste too strong. How would I get him to drink it?"
"Mix it into mead; he’ll never taste it."
"Don’t you need something of his to make a charm?" Debra asked. She reached into the folds of her skirt and withdrew a small braided loop. She took one of Iseabail’s cold, wet hands and folded her fingers over the circlet.
"A lock of his hair," she explained.
Iseabail trembled and her eyes went blank. Debra, frightened and unable to rouse the older woman, ran to her village and brought help.
When Iseabail’s open eyes finally began to see again, she was tucked into bed, her husband, Angus, looking down at her with concern. Debra busied herself carrying their damp laundry inside and draping it near the fire, where the smoking peat bricks gave off heat but little light.
"Ah, you’re back," Angus said. "How do you feel?"
Iseabail gave a furtive look to Debra, who took the hint and went outside.
"It’s the Sight," she said in a whisper. "I haven’t felt it since I left Glenfinnan."
Angus quirked his eyebrows. "Well, well. After all these years, I thought I knew each and every one of your secrets, old woman," he said.
He smoothed her white hair. "Did the Sight trouble you often when you lived in Glenfinnan?"
"Only once," she said. "The night before I left. I told you that the clan chieftain’s lady wife gave birth to a stillborn boy."
"And how an old beggar woman knocked at the door with a baby in her arms." Iseabail swallowed hard.
"Go on," Angus encouraged.
"The beggar woman looked old at first, but then there was a shimmering about her, as if I could see two of her, and then she didn’t look old anymore. She was old, older than the clans, but looked young and beautiful."
Iseabail shuddered, and Angus gave her a drink of whisky.
"I warned the chieftain and his lady wife that the woman was an enchantress and the babe a changeling, but they wouldn’t listen. The light shimmered around the babe, too, and I felt good and evil swirling about the room, swirling around him. The wife offered to buy my silence, but the husband banished me that very night. I shouldn’t have come back," she said, gulping for air.
Iseabail unclenched her left hand. Her fingernails had dug bloody half moons into her palm. In the center of her hand was a tiny braided circle of nearly black hair. She looked at the door and back to her husband.
"Throw this in the fire," she whispered, "and don’t tell Debra. Then bring me Lochlyn Campbell."
Angus shook his head. "He’s still off hunting the wolf, and when he gets back, he’ll be busy. Tomorrow’s Johnsmas."
Iseabail gritted her teeth. "Bring him, Angus. There’s something he needs to know."
Pausing at the top of the hill overlooking Glenfinnan, Jamie Strathairn set the brake on the caravan to help the pony breech going down the grade into the village. As always, the sheer beauty of the scene caught him, made him think, however briefly, about settling there, no longer roaming the circuits of his year. How many times had he celebrated Johnsmas here with the MacLeods, adding his jugs of good whiskey to their food and fueling the dancing? How many Midwinters had he spent beside the hearths here, one last stop before he headed south to winter in Braemar.
He laughed to himself, remembering some of the past years' feasts.
If there was no wealth in Glenfinnan's homes as the nobility counted it, there was an open-handedness that somehow made them seem more prosperous than they were. Given that, coupled with the splendor of the scenery, Jamie counted this stop one of his favorites.
Old Ian had been a good chieftain, and Duncan looked to be a good successor, when the time came. Too bad about the girl - such things could cause problems, and evidently the Campbell had made his choice on his daughter's behalf.
In Jamie's case, the girl had been a Montrose, and her father had been very unsympathetic to his suit. No reason, no excuses, just "no." He had walked away from his berth on one of his father's ships, bought a caravan and pony, and been a tinker ever since. He had never smelled the salt air again, roaming inland.
At the bottom of the hill, as the weight of the wagon stopped pushing the pony, he let off the brake, and asked the little bay to pick up a trot.
Shaking his harness bells, the pony caught the attention of all the children of the village, who ran to their mothers with the news of the tinker's coming. By the time he got to the first house, women were lined up, waiting. There would be some bantering for the privilege of guesting him, because he would work his keep.
He hung out his pots and pans, laid out his tinner's tools, and began his patter. "The very finest in the new tinplate, my ladies, excellent for cooking, and beautiful pewter mugs for toddies on those cold winter nights." He noticed that there were no men or even older teenage boys around, and wondered if somehow the McLeods and the Campbells were at it again. If what Duncan had said were true, the marriage between the Campbell daughter and the MacLeod son was supposed to set things right, but still. . . these old feuding clans often went on for time out of memory.
Working, watching, he made his mental notes, all the things to tell his Earl when he spent the winter there. All the things that made up the tapestry of information that kept the peace more or less in place, Jamie the Tinker sold his pots and remembered.
But there was one among the women he had not seen here before, or couldn't remember, a woman who offered him a pot to be pounded out. He wondered how she could even manage to cook, so bent were her fingers with arthritis, like an old tree's gnarled roots. Jamie filed back through his memory, stuffed with names and faces, sorting through to find a younger version of this lined face. He had almost arrived at a name when it was given to him.
"Iseabail!" Mary MacLeod said the name with all the despair of a rabbit frozen in the shadow of a hawk. What was it about an old midwife, Jamie wondered, that could cause such fear in a chieftain's wife? Iseabail pushed her hair off her forehead with the back of a hand, and the gesture clicked the story into place. He had come on her stumbling on the road one cold morning after Midwinter, years ago. She had begged a ride with him, wherever he was going, just away from Glenfinnan. She was silent all the way to Braemar, helping with her share of the work, saying nothing. She had disappeared there, all those years ago. Now she stood here, silent again, waiting, as Mary MacLeod walked toward her.
Oops! Here's Round 19
Mary straightened her shoulders and walked to Jamie’s wagon. She narrowed her eyes at Iseabail and summoned her courage in a deep breath. Turning on her heel, she dismissed the lined-up women.
Jamie hiked his eyebrows. "Mistress MacLeod? It’s hard for a tinker to ply his trade with no customers."
"Pack your things. It’s not safe here. Did no one tell you? Ian’s taken the men to the Campbells to try to talk one last time."
"Since when did Ian MacLeod take all of his men just to talk?" Jamie said.
Mary said, "Because he knows that talking won’t work." She turned her look onto Iseabail and barely suppressed a shudder.
"How dare you come here?" Mary asked, her voice unsure. "You’ve brought it all down on us."
Iseabail waved her dented pot in front of Jamie, who took it with some reluctance. She answered, "Angus and I must eat. You cannot deny us that. Let me get this fixed, and then we’re off to the coast."
Mary’s face was white; her voice was a harsh whisper. "You’ve brought this all down on us, from the time my Duncan was born! Disgrace after disgrace, and now death after death."
"I didn’t bring it down on you, didn’t wish for any of it," Iseabail said, clawing at the rosary at her waist, clutching its large wooden cross in her gnarled fingers. "But I did see it coming." She kissed the cross and began to intone a Hail Mary under her breath.
Jamie placed Iseabail’s pot over a wooden form and began to hammer out its dented bottom. If he couldn’t think of anything to say to stop Iseabail from upsetting such a good patron as Mary MacLeod had always been, at least he could hurry her on her way.
Mary’s grabbed the old woman’s arm, setting the wooden rosary beads clicking. "You and your husband have been with Lochlyn Campbell since, since Debra and Robert . . . " she started, slowing down as her eyes grew wide. "There’s to be no peace, is there? This is going to come to battle, is it not?"
Iseabail confirmed Mary’s worse fears with a nod and renewed praying on her rosary. She interrupted an Our Father to tell Mary, "And Angus will meet my by the loch when it’s over, and then we’ll leave."
Mary crossed herself. "Holy Mary, Mother of God."
Jamie handed the hammered-out pot to Iseabail, declining payment. "Mary," he said, "There have been skirmishes and tussles between the MacLeods and the Campbells for years—why, since there have been clans."
"Aye," Mary said, jerking her head in the direction of Iseabail, "and she and her husband stayed through all of them for the four years they’ve been here. If they’re going now, it means more than just a skirmish."
Mary and Jamie watched Iseabail walk through the village toward the loch, her bag slung over her shoulder, passing the women of Glenfinnan as she went. The news of the impending battle passed with her, and the women grew anxious in her wake.
Jamie watched as the fear on Mary’s face turned to resolve; she had more than strength enough to be the clan chieftain’s helpmate. She picked up her skirts and ran to Iseabail. The old woman stopped her mumbled prayers long enough to listen.
"Iseabail, you were a gifted midwife and healer," she said. "I beg you. Stay with us until your husband comes. Perhaps you can help tend the wounded."
Iseabail laughed and held up her hands. "Mary, I can’t bind a wound or mend a broken bone with these. All I can do is pray."
Mary took her by the arm and turned her back the way she had come. "Pray, then, if you will. It seems we’ll all need it."
Water Falls (Round 20)
Posted By: Wain, sorry for writing out of turn, but the Muse
wouldn't wait <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Tuesday, 27 November 2001, at 5:44 a.m.
Duncan found what he had come for. He dismounted from the horse and lifted the flap of the saddlebag, removing the red roses he had carefully placed there. He walked to the small granite marker. His fingers traced Debra’s name, and he murmured a greeting to her in Gaelic. Resting his hand on the cold, wet top of the stone, he remembered.
He remembered the Johnsmas feast when he still thought he might ask for her hand, arriving late with the slain wolf over his shoulders, dropping it at the feet of his father and Lochlyn Campbell. Lochlyn’s approval gave Duncan hope that the silver bracelet he had bought as a parting gift to Debra might instead be her wedding gift.
Memories of the feast day music came to him, and dancing; the food, oatcakes and new yellow cheeses as round and golden as the sun; the way he contrived to sit next to Debra; the mug after mug of mead she had offered him. When the long, long day had passed, he remembered jumping the bonfires, too, Debra squealing that he must wait until the fires were lower, himself running barefoot, kilts flying, leaping seven and then eight times over the flames. Robert had tried to jump then, and had skidded to an ungraceful landing on the far side of the fire, burning himself slightly.
Duncan remembered offering Robert a seat next to him, listening to the whoops of delight when Robert had tersely informed the crowd that he couldn’t sit and rubbed the burned part gingerly, and Duncan turned to Debra and pressed his thigh along the length of hers.
He saw again the flaming cartwheel careening down the hill, and then closed his eyes against the memory of Debra’s body falling to her death. He felt the weight of her in his arms and against his chest as he carried her broken body home to her father, recoiled even four centuries later at the memory of the man rejecting his daughter and refusing her burial.
Duncan knelt and placed his hand where he thought the silver bracelet might be, the wedding gift become a grave offering. He hadn’t seen Debra’s father after Duncan carried her home, not until the day they met in battle, Lochlyn’s face twisted in hatred as his claymore slid under Duncan’s ribs.
"For my Debra," Lochlyn had said.
He had known little after that until the unbearable pain of being jostled onto a bed brought him to consciousness. Among the other memories, one floated free, one he had never made sense of four centuries before. He remembered the white-haired woman—although he could no longer remember her name—screaming and praying when he came back from his mortal death, gnarled, twisted fingers holding the wooden cross from the end of her rosary to ward him off.
She stayed with him, even after his father cursed and disowned him and ran away, her face frozen with fear, her mumblings turning to ravings.
"Born once, born twice," she rambled, singsong, her eyes darting around the room seeing something Duncan couldn’t. "I can see it all! Then thrice . . . in a trice." She almost laughed then, and her mouth opened and closed silently for a few minutes.
She held the cross to one invisible tormenter, then another. "Four . . . there’s more!" Her voice rose to a shriek as she counted, "Five, you’re alive. Six . . . please, I don’t want to see more!"
Duncan remembered her bursting outside and running away, but thought no more of her. He thought only of finding his father. The next day, the old woman had been found drowned in the loch.
The rain was coming harder now, hitting the gravestone in fat drops that slid down the granite. Duncan’s horse stamped a foot and shook its head. Duncan started to go, then turned back to Debra’s grave.
He bent down and worked a single red rose free from the bunch, then mounted his horse and turned it in the direction of Loch Shiel. When Duncan arrived there, it was raining hard. He walked to the loch’s edge and tossed the rose into the lapping waters, saying a quiet benediction to the old woman for whom his Immortality had been as much of a curse as it was to him.